The Government will take legal action on Thursday against the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) over a planned strike in the long-running dispute over pay.
Health Secretary Steve Barclay said he was “regretfully” applying to the High Court to declare the walkout planned for May 2 unlawful.
RCN members working in the NHS in England at workplaces with a strike mandate are preparing to take 48-hour industrial action from 8pm or the start of the night shift on April 30.
Mr Barclay said NHS Employers had contacted him asking him to check the legality of the action because the organisation believes the strike mandate runs out on May 1.
“Despite attempts by my officials to resolve the situation over the weekend, I have been left with no choice but to proceed with legal action.
“I firmly support the right to take industrial action within the law, but the Government cannot stand by and let a plainly unlawful strike action go ahead nor ignore the request of NHS Employers.
“We must also protect nurses by ensuring they are not asked to take part in an unlawful strike.”
RCN general secretary Pat Cullen vowed to “stand up” to Government “bullies” in court, although she has confirmed members will not be asked to strike on May 2 if the court rules in the Government’s favour.
She said in a message to members: “The only way to deal with bullies is to stand up to them – including in court.
“If the Government succeeds in silencing members like you and convinces the court to stop part of our strike, then we’ll have no choice but to cut it short.
“Our strike action has always been safe and legal. We would never ask our members to do anything unsafe or against your professional code.
“It’s so wrong for the Government to use taxpayers’ money to drag our profession through the courts.
“We’re determined to show that the nursing profession is strong and determined and defend our members’ right to strike.”
Ms Cullen has urged ministers to resume negotiations after RCN members rejected a 5% pay offer.
She accused the Government of treating nurses “as criminals” by “dragging them through the courts” despite their efforts on the front line of the NHS during the coronavirus pandemic.