Maria Caulfield MP

‘Inevitable’ patients will suffer because of nurse strike action, says minister

As tens of thousands of UK nurses go on strike in the first such industrial action in NHS history, health minister Maria Caulfield said that people suffering “is an inevitable [consequence] of strike action”. She added: “that’s why it’s with regret we see that the RCN are going out on action today”.

Caulfield, who says she still does shifts as a nurse, continued: “Cancer surgeries are going to be closed in those 44 trusts in England. We reckon it’s about 70,000 appointments, procedures, surgeries that will be lost”, she told Sky News on Thursday morning. 

“So that is going to have an impact when the system is already struggling to get through the Covid backlog”.

Nurses across, England, Northern Ireland and Wales will walk out from 8 am to 8pm, in the first of two days of scheduled strikes over their pay claim. Their action has led to thousands of operations have been postponed. A&Es are running on Christmas day level staffing during the busiest time of the year.

The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) is staging the strikes in an effort to win a pay rise for this year of 5% above inflation, they are protesting the government’s decision to award them an increase of at least £1,400, which is the equivalent of about a 4% uplift.

The RCN’s general secretary, Pat Cullen, has argued that “Nurses are not relishing this”, adding: “We are acting with a very heavy heart. It has been a difficult decision taken by hundreds of thousands who begin to remove their labour from tomorrow in a bid to be heard, recognised and valued.

“It is a tragic first for nursing, the RCN and the NHS. Nursing staff on picket lines is a sign of failure on the part of governments”.

She accused the secretary of state for health Steve Barclay of “digging in” on the key issue of pay. Ms Cullen told the BBC: “I have said time and time again, if this Secretary of State stops digging in then we will come to the table and we will be realistic, we will be reasonable and we will talk to him.

Speaking this morning, Ms Caulfied told Times Radio that “So pay is an issue but it’s almost a smaller issue compared to some of those others”.

“When I was working full time, I went through the pay freeze and the pay cap which were very difficult. That’s when we had the Lib Dem coalition government and they were difficult times”.

She also said the Royal College of Nursing’s “demand of 19 per cent is not something we can realistically deliver on”, and that for every percentage point pay rise for nurses the Government has to find “£700 million”.

An Ipsos poll found that over half (52%) of the British public support the strikes, with only 27% against.

Yesterday during Prime Minister’s Questions, Keir Starmer accused Rishi Sunak of “playing games with people’s health” by failing to negotiate a pay rise with the union.

He said: “Nurses going on strike is a badge of shame for this government. After 12 years of Tory failure, winter has arrived for our public services, and we’ve got a Prime Minister who has curled up in a ball and gone into ­hibernation.

“If he can’t act on behalf of patients or nurses, or everyone who wants these strikes called off, then the country’s entitled to ask what is the point of him?”.