STEVE BARCLAY: My door is open to nursing leaders but my priority is to keep people safe this winter – no responsible Government would take money away from clearing the waiting lists for a 19% pay hike
Covid has left behind some deep scars, especially on our economy and health service. With money tight and over seven million people on hospital waiting lists, the road to recovery for our NHS was always going to be tough. Now it may get tougher still, with unions representing nurses and ambulance services threatening strike action this winter.
This government made a clear decision to prioritise healthcare and the people who provide it. We have accepted the advice of the independent Pay Review Body to give a million NHS staff a pay increase of at least £1,400, on top of their three percent pay rise last year when pay was frozen elsewhere in the public sector. Patients will be worried and frustrated that the nurses’ union, the RCN, is going ahead with industrial action tomorrow.
Strikes are in no one’s interest, least of all patients. My priority as Health and Social Care Secretary must be to keep people as safe as possible this winter, especially as we face the threats of Covid, flu and Strep A.
With money tight and over seven million people on hospital waiting lists, the road to recovery for our NHS was always going to be tough
That starts with leaving my door open for further talks in the sincere hope unions can see sense. I have listened carefully to the RCN’s position on pay. No responsible government would want to take money away from clearing the elective backlog to pay for a bigger 19 percent hike. That would be a setback on the road to recovery.
The Labour Party has no credible alternative. They are all over the place on strikes, criticising Ministers while admitting the unions’ pay demands are completely unaffordable. By contrast, we have always tried to have a balanced process that recognises the incredible contributions of NHS colleagues while also being fair to the wider economy. That remains my position and, as long as unions are willing to talk, I am willing to listen.
At the same time, we have moved at pace with contingency plans for strikes. Working with NHS England, we have engaged with professional bodies and trade unions to seek to agree safe levels of cover. I have joined meetings of the cross-government planning committee Cobra twice this week to help with planning and logistics, including drawing on military personnel and medical expertise from outside the public sector.
I have listened carefully to the RCN’s position on pay. No responsible government would want to take money away from clearing the elective backlog to pay for a bigger 19 percent hike, writes Steve Barclay
People should continue to use NHS 111 online if they need medical help – and dial 999 in the event of an emergency. Meanwhile, hospitals will do all they can to make sure planned procedures go ahead. But given the pressures they are already under it is inevitable there will be disruption. Some patients will have their treatment delayed and people will be contacted if their appointments need changing.
I know people will find any interruption to services intensely frustrating and worrying – especially as they are suffering the consequences of strike action elsewhere, from our railways to our borders. I share their frustration. I hope we can find a way forward to spare patients from unnecessary and unjustified disruption when we can least afford it, so we can get our NHS back on the road to recovery.