NURSES in Gwent will not take part in strikes, as it stands, because a majority of union members failed to vote in a ballot.

The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) asked its members to vote on potential industrial action over pay levels and patient safety concerns.

And, in results announced earlier today, the union said the first period of strikes should be "expected in December".

Its members at six of Wales' seven health boards, as well as at the Welsh Ambulance Service, voted in favour of industrial action.

But in Gwent's Aneurin Bevan University Health Board region, members will not be joining them on the picket lines after they failed to reach the threshold for a valid result.

Under union rules, at least half of all members in each health organisation must vote in order for the result to stand.

In Gwent the number of members to vote fell just short of that threshold, at 49.6 per cent. This does not necessarily mean that union members in the Aneurin Bevan University Health Board voted against strike action, rather that not enough members voted at all for the result to be binding.

Nationally, the union hailed "a historic day" for the nursing profession and for patients which was "ultimately one born of desperation".

"The decision to strike has not been taken lightly, and has passed to demand change where no other solution has been possible," said Helen Whyley, director of RCN Wales.

"Our members have spoken on what is an incredibly difficult decision both professionally and personally. The result of this ballot shows just how much nursing staff put the safety of their patients above all else."

Richard Jones, the union's Wales board chairman, added: "Every nurse wants to deliver the highest quality patient care in a lifelong career whilst being able to support themselves and their families.   

"Our members’ decisions are paramount in everything we do, so now we will deliver. We will do everything in our power in the next steps for the fight for fair pay and safe staffing levels which nursing staff so desperately deserve."

The Welsh Government said it recognised there was "anger and disappointment" among workers.

"We recognise why so many nurses voted the way they did and we agree nurses should be fairly rewarded for their important work," a Welsh Government spokesperson said.

"We also recognise the anger and disappointment many public sector workers are feeling at the moment. There are however limits to how far we can go to address these concerns in Wales without additional funding from the UK Government.

"Following the ballot result, we will work with NHS organisations and health boards on their contingency plans. The public should be assured that arrangements will be made with RCN Wales to ensure there will always be a safe level of staffing, with life-saving and life-maintaining care being provided during any industrial action."