Shadow health secretary Wes Streeting has said the strikes in the NHS are part of a “broader cry for help” from health workers, as the government prepares to hold crunch talks with union bosses to hammer out pay deals and avoid further industrial action.
Speaking to BBC Breakfast on Monday morning, he said: “I think what we are seeing through these strikes is actually a broader cry for help about the state of the National Health Service and what these frontline staff are seeing day in, day out, going home at the end of very long, tough shifts having slogged their guts out, worried that despite their best efforts patients aren’t receiving the care they need, they are waiting far too long and there are life and death consequences”.
This comes as ministers will hold a series of meetings with union leaders on Monday as they seek to prevent future strikes over pay in the NHS, in classrooms and on the railways. Steve Barclay, the health secretary, will meet with leaders including those from the Royal College of Nursing (RCN).
Ministers have insisted that Monday’s meetings will focus on next year’s pay deal, despite union demands to improve this year’s settlement.
But on Sunday, prime minister Rishi Sunak refused to rule out talks about the current 2022/23 pay deal.
Mr Streeting accused the Government of ‘unreasonableness’ over the issue of nurses pay. Referring to RCN general secretary Pat Cullen, he said: “She actually offered to call off the nurses’ strike before Christmas if the government would sit down and negotiate on pay. She’s now offering to meet the government halfway. Surely that is a good starting point now for serious talks on pay. I don’t expect the health secretary to come on your programme and negotiate live on pay or say ‘I’ll settle on this number’ — and I’m not going to do that with you this morning either. But I do think that she’s shown a degree of reasonableness in the face of government unreasonableness”.
Patricia Marquis, the director of the Royal College of Nursing England, told Sky News that the Government must today show a “willingness to discuss pay for this year” if it wants planned strikes on 18-19 January to be called off.
She added: “We know that the meeting has been called with all the unions for across the NHS about next year and they are not negotiations, we understand they are conversations, sort of setting out the scene.
“So we will be interested, of course, to hear what Steve Barclay has got to say but unless we are able to have some conversation about this year’s pay award then sadly this isn’t going to resolve the dispute that we currently have with the Government”.
“That will mean that the strikes that we have planned for the 18th and 19th of January will sadly go ahead and that is just what we really want to avoid”.