Disruption as nurses and ambulance staff in England strike


A health minister has insisted there can be no re-examination of NHS pay for this year as the health service in England faces what is expected to be the biggest strike in its history, with no signs of a government plan to end the impasse.

The industrial action on Monday will be the first time that both NHS nurses and ambulance staff in England have stopped work simultaneously, amid an ongoing dispute over pay and staffing.

The Royal College of Nursing (RCN), which is staging two days of action, has said it is calling out twice as many of its members than it did during earlier strikes in December and January. Ambulance crews and call handlers will return to work on Tuesday but are then due to stop work on Friday.

She told Sky News on Monday: “We’ve been pretty clear that we’re not going to look at the current year’s pay award. That was agreed in April by the unions and by the government and accepted in full. We really want to focus on the forthcoming pay awards.”

Steve Barclay, the health secretary, who has reiterated his call for unions to call off the strikes, has not held talks with the health unions since last month, with no apparent attempt being made to restart negotiations.

Asked whether Barclay had effectively given up, Caulfield pointed to the talks in January, saying that he had “held almost weekly meetings with a range of them”.

Pat Cullen, the general secretary of the RCN, said she had written to Rishi Sunak urging him to “resolve this impasse”, saying it was pointless devoting more funding to the NHS without proper staffing levels.

“The record money that’s going into the health service is certainly not addressing the crisis within the nursing workforce,” she told ITV’s Good Morning Britain. “And he will only resolve the issues within the health service if he resolves the issues within nursing.

“It’s a false economy, putting money into short-term projects and short-term measures instead of actually looking at a more strategic long-term plan for the health service.”

NHS Providers, which represents trusts, has urge the public to use emergency services “wisely” during the strikes, as it warned the health service was approaching a “crunch point”.

Unions in Wales largely suspended similar action after the Welsh government came forward on Friday with an improved pay offer, including for the current year. Asked about this by Sky, Caulfield said the Westminster government would not follow suit for England.

Over the weekend, the business secretary, Grant Shapps, sparked anger among the ambulance unions when he accused them of putting patients’ lives at risk by refusing to inform employers of details of their strike action.

The NHS Providers chief executive, Sir Julian Hartley, said it understood why so many of its staff had reached a “tipping point” as he urged ministers to sit down with unions to thrash out a settlement.

He said 88,000 appointments had already been cancelled as a result of the industrial action, hitting patients hard.

“We’re facing a crunch point. Monday’s coordinated walkout by nurses and ambulance workers could see the worst disruption yet for the NHS,” he said. “We face a very real risk that tens of thousands more patients will have their care disrupted in the coming days by this double whammy of strikes, especially as they’re coming right after a weekend when we know demand for care tends to build up.”

Sir Julian said NHS leaders would do everything possible to ensure safe care and to minimise disruption for patients, and called on the public to think carefully before accessing services.

“It’s vital that in the event of an emergency, people continue to call 999,” he said. “But given the severe disruption we’re expecting, we’re asking the public to use services wisely and to think about whether other health issues could be more appropriately dealt with via the NHS 111 website, community pharmacists or their GP.”

Source: The Guardian