The Royal College of Nursing is assessing the mood for strike action in protest over pay.
The largest nursing union is asking 270,000 members across the UK whether they want to strike before deciding whether to issue a formal ballot.
It said a combination of pay freezes and caps on pay rises since 2010 have effectively led to a 14% pay cut due to the rising cost of living, while the latest review of public sector pay proposes a rise of just 1%.
Now the union, which did not take part in a 2014 wave of strike action, believes unprecedented pressure in the NHS means nurses have never worked harder, and for so little.
Janet Davies, the chief executive of the RCN, said: “Years of real-terms pay cuts have left too many struggling to make ends meet. Nurses should not have to fund the NHS deficit from their own pay packets. Whatever nurses decide, it is becoming clear that their goodwill cannot be relied on indefinitely.”
Nurses will also be asked if they are interested in other forms of industrial action, such as working only their contracted hours or refusing to do work expected of more senior staff.
The poll of RCN members will close on Sunday 7 May and the results will be announced at the union’s annual conference later that month.