Health Secretary meets nursing leaders over strikes

Health Secretary meets nursing leaders over strikes

Health Secretary Steve Barclay meets with leaders in the care industry Monday after a bitter argument over industrial action.

Mr Barclay has clarified that the Government’s position on pay remains unchanged, although the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) said it was hopeful the talks could be productive.

It is understood that the topic and status of the talks before the meeting were not pre-agreed.

Earlier, the Prime Minister’s spokesman told reporters that Mr Barclay was ready to speak to nurses after RCN boss Pat Cullen said the government’s door was “firmly shut” while hers was “wide open”.

He said: “I think he has made it clear that he is always ready to meet with the Royal College of Nursing.”

When asked if he was willing to speak to the union about pay, the official said: “The position on pay hasn’t changed – that’s rightfully for an independent review body to decide.”

An RCN spokesman said: “We have responded positively to his email and will be attending in the hope that the government is now taking the negotiations seriously.”

A meeting of Cobra – the government’s emergency committee – is said to be ongoing.

A wave of strikes by nurses, paramedics, railway workers and Border Force staff this month is expected to spark mass disruption as thousands of NHS surgeries and appointments are cancelled. The first strike by nurses will take place on Thursday.

The military and officers are expected to be deployed to cover Border Force personnel, while forces are also deployed to hospital trusts ahead of an ambulance strike on December 21.

The talks between the RCN and Mr Barclay come as strikes by ambulance staff and some NHS workers in Scotland were called off after members of two unions voted to accept the Scottish Government’s latest wage agreement.

About 64% of Unite members who voted supported the agreement.

Unison members also voted to call off the deal, with 57% backing the deal with a turnout of 62%.

After negotiations with Health Minister Humza Yousaf and the intervention of Prime Minister Nicola Sturgeon, the new deal would mean NHS workers in Scotland would remain the highest paid in the UK and workers would receive wage increases of between £2,205 and £2,751.

For the low paid, it would be an 11.3% increase, with an average increase of 7.5%.

Earlier, Mr Barclay said pay would be set by the Independent Payroll Review Board as he had indicated there would be no change in nurses’ pay in England.

He told BBC Breakfast seven million people are currently awaiting surgery and “it’s important that we prioritize our funding for patients to clear those backlogs of surgery”.

He added: “I don’t want to take money away from cleaning up the backlog, which we would have to do – we would have to take money away from patients awaiting surgeries to then fund additional payments.

“And if everyone in the public sector got an inflation-adjusted increase, that would cost £28 billion if the government has to get inflation under control, because that’s the biggest factor in terms of the cost to people’s lives.”

The RCN has said nurses could suspend planned strikes if the government agrees to pay talks.

Patricia Marquis, RCN’s England director, told Times Radio the government must “make a serious commitment to talking about pay and staffing security and not talking about peripheral issues that are important but will not resolve this dispute.” ”

Ms Cullen previously told ITV’s Good Morning Britain: “The door is firmly closed to me and the 320,000 nurses who took part in this vote for strike action.”

There are currently 7.2million people on the NHS waiting list for scheduled treatment.

The overall waiting list was steadily increasing before the Covid pandemic, from 2.5 million in April 2012 to 4.6 million in February 2020.

Shadow Health Secretary Wes Streeting accused Barclay of “spoiling for a fight”.

He said: “I think the government’s stubborn refusal to engage in serious negotiations shows that they are looking for a fight.

“They want to blame nurses, paramedics and NHS staff for challenges in the National Health Service who are the direct blame and responsibility for 12 years of conservative mismanagement – frankly I find it disgusting.”

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