Rishi Sunak today warned millions of patients will have their treatment disrupted by NHS strikes.
On the eve of the NHS’s biggest nursing walk-out in history, the Prime Minister said the Government has ‘consistently’ met with unions to discuss pay disputes.
But Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer branded the strikes a ‘badge of shame’ on the Government, claiming NHS staff have been forced into action.
Up to 100,000 nurses at dozens of hospitals will take to picket lines tomorrow in an ongoing row over wages.
Rishi Sunak (left) today warned millions of patients will have their treatment disrupted by NHS strikes. Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer (right) branded the strikes a ‘badge of shame’ on the Government, claiming NHS staff have been forced into action
This map shows the hospitals where the Royal College of Nursing will hold its first strikes over pay on Thursday 15 and Tuesday 20 December
This graph shows the Royal College of Nursing’s demands for a 5 per cent above inflation pay rise for the bands covered by its membership which includes healthcare assistants and nurses. Estimates based on NHS Employers data
Union putting patients at risk on strike days, top nurses warn
The nursing union is putting patients at risk by failing to protect lifesaving services on strike days, the UK’s chief nurses have warned.
Dame Ruth May, chief nursing officer for England, has written to the chief executive of the Royal College of Nursing to say many nursing leaders feel ‘let down’ by its actions.
The letter to Pat Cullen is co-signed by Dame Ruth’s counterparts in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and urges her to do more to protect patient safety during planned walkouts.
The extraordinary intervention came as the NHS cancer chief wrote to the RCN asking them to adopt a ‘compassionate approach for patients’ and permit its members to perform urgent cancer surgery to ‘avoid harm’.
Up to 15,000 operations could be cancelled as a result of the nursing strike this Thursday, with further action planned for next Tuesday.
Nurses will walk out of hospitals, including A&Es and cancer wards, after the government refused their demands for a 19.2 per cent pay rise.
Health leaders say patients should expect a ‘bank holiday level’ of service as a result.
READ MORE: Nursing union is putting patients at risk by failing to protect life-saving services on strike days, UK’s top nurses warn amid fears urgent cancer surgery could be axed
It will be the starting gun for potentially six months of NHS strikes, with paramedics, 999 call handlers and physiotherapists set to follow suit.
Pressed on the chaos at Prime Minister’s Questions, Mr Sunak said: ‘We have consistently spoken to all the unions involved, in all the pay disputes that there are.
‘Last year, when everyone else in the public sector had a public sector pay freeze, the nurses received a 3 per cent pay rise.
‘When the RCN asked for more in-work training, we gave every nurse and midwife a £1,000 training budget.
‘And when they asked for nurses’ bursaries, we made sure that every nursing student received a £5,000 grant.
‘That’s because we do work constructively and we will continue to back our nurses.’
He added: ‘There are millions of [people] across this country who will have their healthcare disrupted because of the strike.’
But Sir Keir said No10 has pushed nurses into taking industrial action because it has ‘broken the health system’.
He said: ‘Nurses going on strike is a badge of shame for this Government. Instead of showing leadership, he’s playing games with people’s health.’
The Royal College of Nursing, the union orchestrating tomorrow’s devastating walk-out, has so far only committed to exempt strikes in six areas.
These are: chemo, intensive care, dialysis, children’s emergency care, children’s intensive care and neonatal services.
It means nurses will walk out of A&E and cancer wards, which will only provide a Christmas Day level of service.
Fears were raised after letters from the UK’s four chief nurses and NHS’s head of cancer care calling on the RCN to protect emergency cancer treatment were leaked yesterday.
But the RCN hit back, claiming cancer patients were not at risk of having urgent or emergency surgeries cancelled because these were already exempted.
The union claimed fears around cancer care had been played up as part of a ‘politically motivated smear’ to put pressure on nurses to cancel the strikes.
The Prime Minister’s Official Spokesman today said No10 is still in ‘discussions’ over ‘appropriate levels of care’ taking place.
Up to 100,000 workers will take part in tomorrow’s strike organised by the Royal College of Nursing
The latest results of the NHS strike ballots are shown here, so far only midwives have failed chosen not to strike
In a letter to RCN general secretary Pat Cullen (right), national cancer director Dame Cally Palmer (left) wrote that she was ‘extremely concerned’ at the impact on cancer patients
Fury as nursing union tells medics to lobby patients to support strike
Nurses are being asked by union bosses to lobby sick patients to support them striking this winter, MailOnline can reveal.
Up to 100,000 members of the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) will walkout on Thursday, marking the start of potentially six months of chaos.
Strikes will also occur at dozens of hospitals next week, with cancer and dialysis wards as well as A&E units to be robbed of staff who are protesting over pay and conditions.
In the run-up to the historic walkouts which health insiders fear will cost lives, the union has produced a guide to ‘how to explain why you’re prepared to join picket lines this winter’.
The RCN claims nurses should find time to explain why they’re striking.
It reminds nurses of its stance by saying, ‘current conditions mean you can’t always provide the level of care you want to’.
Patients should also be reassured that the RCN ‘can strike safely’, with a Christmas Day level of service that will preserve enough staff to treat patients in life-or-death situations.
Patients should also be told that the strike is nurses’ ‘last resort’ and that medics are resorting to food banks ‘just to survive’.
The final part of the guide, released days after the union announced it would strike, says nurses should also ask patients: ‘Will you support us?’
It says nurses should explain to patients that it ‘means a lot’ to have their support and that everything the 106-year-old union is doing is to ‘protect the NHS and improve patient safety’.
Tories reacted with fury to the RCN’s attempts to politicise hospital wards.
Peter Bone, MP for Wellingborough, was ‘shocked’ by the RCN advice and argued it could leave patients afraid of the nurses that should be caring for them.
‘Canvassing patients to support strikes when the patient is ill and vulnerable and relying on the nurses seems, to me, totally unacceptable,’ he said.
‘I am shocked that, instead of being concerned with getting the patient better, they are asking them to support a political cause.’
READ MORE: ‘Militant’ union organising NHS strikes creates guide on how to lobby sick patients to support walk-outs – as UK’s top nurses beg RCN softens upcoming action because patients are at risk
The spokesman pointed to a letter from chief nursing officers about the RCN strike and the need to ensure patient safety.
He said: ‘That is certainly our expectation and if experienced nursing leaders are concerned, we would urge the RCN to listen and set out plans to ensure the services in question are protected.’
Health and Social Care Secretary, Steve Barclay, said: ‘Our nurses are incredibly dedicated to their job and it is deeply regrettable some union members are going ahead with strike action.
‘My number one priority is to keep patients safe — I’ve been working across government and with medics outside the public sector to ensure safe staffing levels — but I do remain concerned about the risk that strikes pose to patients.
‘Nevertheless, the NHS is open and patients should continue to seek urgent medical care — and attend appointments, unless they’ve been contacted by the NHS.’
He added: ‘These are challenging times but we have accepted the recommendations of the independent NHS Pay Review Body in full to give nurses a pay rise of at least £1,400 — on top of a 3 per cent pay rise last year when wider public sector pay was frozen.
‘Further pay increases would mean taking money away from frontline services at a time when we are tackling record waiting lists as a result of the pandemic.’
Despite the concerns, NHS chiefs have begged patients needing emergency care tomorrow still ring 999.
Deputy Chief Nursing Officer Charlotte McArdle said it is ‘vital’ they come forward for emergency care during strikes.
She said: ‘No one should hesitate in coming forward for emergency care tomorrow — it is vital anybody needing non-life threatening care should use 111 online and people should always call 999 in a life threatening emergency.
‘Across the country, pharmacies and GP services will be operating as normal and patients should reach out to these local services as they normally would.
‘While strikes will cause inevitable disruption to services, local NHS teams have worked hard to maintain as many appointments as possible.
‘So it is important people attend appointments as planned unless they have been contacted for it to be rearranged.’
It comes as Tory MP David Davis, the former Brexit Secretary, said NHS strikes this winter will cost lives.
He told TalkTV that the public are ‘quite sympathetic’ to strikers — but that they will eventually ‘get quite cross with them’.
Mr Davis, 73, said: ‘It is plain as a pikestaff that the health service strikes are going to cost lives.
‘And, really, if you joined up for the health service you shouldn’t be doing things that cost lives.’
He added that he believes the public will ‘take a very dim view of that’.
Up to 15,000 ops could be cancelled as a result of the nursing strike this Thursday, with further action planned for next Tuesday.
Up to 10,000 patients who would typically be examined for suspected cancer each day may also find their appointments disrupted, Dame Cally Palmer, national cancer director at NHS England, said.
And Britain’s top nurses also hit out at the strikes.
In an extraordinary intervention, Dame Ruth May, chief nursing officer for England, said many nursing leaders feel ‘let down’ by the RCN’s actions.
The RCN, described as ‘militant’ by critics, promised to ‘make this strike safe and effective’.
Pat Cullen, chief executive of the union, suggested safety fears were being particularly stoked because nurses are majoritively women.
She tweeted: ‘Inundated with our members contacting the College today saying they are feeling bullied and afraid to take action now.
‘This scaremongering has happened to our profession for years. Would this happen in a predominantly male profession? Deeply disappointing.’
Tomorrow’s strikes come before NHS ambulance staff follow suit next week, when when thousands of paramedics, drivers and call handlers will walk out.
The strike next week will be the biggest walk-out for 30 years, with members of Unison, Unite and the GMB all taking action.
GMB members will take part in an additional strike day on Wednesday, December 28.
In other NHS strike news
Ailing ambulance trust begs patients take their OWN loved ones to hospital… and only ring 999 if it’s a true emergency or they ‘can’t get there by any other means’
Midwives WON’T strike… but the physios will! Catalogue of NHS winter walk-outs grows as unions plan action for early 2023
Ringing 999 on strike days? You might be taken to A&E in a TAXI, health minister admits as soldiers are drafted in to drive ambulances to non-emergency calls