Nurses are set to go on strike for two days next month as a row over NHS pay escalates.
The Royal College of Nursing has confirmed that its members will hold their first national walk on December 15 and 20.
The RCN said the government had rejected its offer of formal wage negotiations and that ministers had “chosen strike action instead”.
NHS trusts will now negotiate with staff which social and hospital services will be provided during strike days. The RCN said it would announce which specific NHS employers would leave next week.
The industrial action will take place in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. The RCN has stopped announcing strike action in Scotland after the government there resumed wage negotiations.
The RCN said that despite a pay increase of around £1,400 given in the summer, experienced nurses are down 20 per cent in real terms due to successive below-inflation awards since 2010.
It comes as other unions vote for workers on strike action, with voting among hundreds of thousands of Unison members ending on Friday. Voting for NHS Unite members ends next week.
Midwives and physiotherapists also vote on strikes, and a plebiscite of young doctors starts in the new year.
Announcing the strike dates, RCN general secretary and chief executive Pat Cullen said: “Ministers have had more than two weeks since we confirmed that our members feel such an injustice that they are going on strike for the first time.
“My offer of formal negotiations was rejected and ministers chose strike action instead. They have the power and means to stop this by starting serious talks about our dispute.
“Nursing staff are fed up with being taken for granted, fed up with low pay and unsafe staffing levels, fed up with not being able to give our patients the care they deserve.”
The RCN has not yet confirmed how many nurses in the three countries will be on strike and where.
NHS leaders talk to Independent raised the possibility of some trusts sharing nurses between hospitals on strike days to help maintain staffing levels.
Hospitals will negotiate with union representatives for services where staff are exempt from strike action. Urgent and urgent care services are expected to be maintained, but trusts will move to “bank holidays” for other services.
Further strike days could be held in January if negotiations between the government and the RCN are not started, the union said.
Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, said: “Health leaders understand that this can be an uncertain time for many people, including those who routinely rely on the NHS, and that these strikes come ahead of what is normally the busiest time of the year for service.
“As a minimum, urgent, emergency and critical care services are expected to continue on strike days and if there are temporary changes to non-urgent aspects of care, such as checks and scheduled procedures, the NHS will ensure that these are communicated to patients in advance, always prioritizing their safety first.
“Healthcare leaders also feel sorry for their workers who feel they have no choice but to go on strike, especially as most other unions are aiming for the same outcome as their members.”
The RCN said the economic case for paying nursing staff fairly is clear when billions of pounds are being spent on agency staff to fill gaps in the workforce. He added that 25,000 nursing staff in the UK left the Register of Nurses and Midwives in the last year and that low pay contributed to staff shortages across the UK, which he warns is affecting patient safety.
The union said there were 47,000 unfilled registered nursing positions in the UK NHS alone.
Responding to the strike action, Health Secretary Steve Barclay said: “I am extremely grateful for the hard work and dedication of nurses and deeply regret that some members of the union will take industrial action.
“These are difficult times for everyone and economic circumstances mean that RCN’s demands, which according to current figures amount to a 19.2 per cent pay rise, costing £10bn a year, are unattainable.
“Our priority is to ensure patient safety. The NHS has tried and tested the plans to minimize disruption and ensure emergency services continue to operate.”
Meanwhile, shadow health secretary Wes Streeting said patients affected by the strike “will never forgive the Conservatives for this omission”.
He said: “Why on earth is the health secretary refusing to negotiate with nurses? Patients can no longer be treated on time, a strike is the last thing they need, and yet the government allows it.
“First the government refused to talk to the unions all summer, now they are refusing to negotiate. If the Conservatives have resigned from governing, they should side with Labour.”