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Nurses set to walk off wards
Mass meeting: Nurses have backed stronger action. Picture: Bill Hatto

WA nurses have upped the ante in their bitter industrial dispute, demanding more money and threatening to go on strike for 24 hours on Monday.

The Health Department warned yesterday the strike would cause a crisis in hospitals and put its disaster preparation team on alert.

A meeting of about 1000 nurses voted yesterday to dump their most recent push for a minimum 12.75 per cent increase over three years and instead hold out for the 20 per cent they originally wanted.

The nurses voted to strike for 24 hours on Monday if their revised pay demand was not met.

But yesterday director-general of health Kim Snowball and the Liberal and Labor leaders maintained they could not give any formal offer until after the election.

Speaking before the department headed back into the Industrial Relations Commission late yesterday, Mr Snowball called on nurses to reconsider their work bans which have closed one in five beds and their threat to walk out on Monday. "The health system is now faced with a crisis that we've not faced before . . . it's a looming disaster,"' he said.

Chief medical officer Gary Geelhoed said lives were hanging in the balance if the industrial action worsened. He was aware of an 80-year-old who had waited in an emergency department for 80 hours to get a hospital bed.

"If nurses strike, people are going to suffer," Dr Geelhoed said.

"It's very rare that doctors and nurses strike for obvious reasons, because we're talking about life and death."

Australian Nursing Federation secretary Mark Olson said he did not accept it was illegal for the Health Department to strike a pay deal with nurses before the election.

He said yesterday's meeting made it clear nurses were fed up with the response so far and now wanted their original claim of 20 per cent over three years. "If we don't get that by Monday we'll be walking off the job," he said.

"I still hope we can come up with a solution but if not, nurses will walk out on Monday and things will get decidedly worse." Mr Olson said even if the IRC ordered nurses to call off their strike, he would have to go back to members to get their vote.

Mr Barnett said an in-principle agreement could be reached between the Health Department and nurses but that was as far as things would progress.

"It's not going to be signed," Mr Barnett said. "The caretaker convention will not be broken. For the sake of two weeks - not necessary."

Labor leader Mark McGowan would not give a firm undertaking to nurses, saying he did not have enough information to assess their claim.