Sunak under pressure to start serious talks with nurses

PMQs: Rishi Sunak and Keir Starmer clash over nurses' strikes

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Nursing union chief Pat Cullen said her members had been left with “no choice” but to stage more walkouts after the government refused to put any more money on the table.

Nursing union chief Pat Cullen said her members had been left with “no choice” but to stage more walkouts after the government refused to put any more money on the table.

The Prime Minister again refused to reopen the pay settlement that means an increase of around four per cent for most nurses.

But the organisation that represents NHS trusts across England said it was time to negotiate.

NHS Providers said two more strike dates “will pile even more pressure on an already overstretched health service”.

Royal College of Nursing (RCN) members will strike on January 18 and 19 across 55 trusts.

General secretary Pat Cullen called for ministers to “come to the negotiating table” and promised ”I will not dig in, if they don’t dig in”.

She said: “The Government had the opportunity to end this dispute before Christmas but instead they have chosen to push nursing staff out into the cold again in January. I do not wish to prolong this dispute but the Prime Minister has left us with no choice.

“The public support has been heart-warming and I am more convinced than ever that this is the right thing to do for patients and the future of the NHS.

“The voice of nursing will not be ignored. Staff shortages and low pay make patient care unsafe – the sooner ministers come to the negotiating table, the sooner this can be resolved. I will not dig in, if they don’t dig in.”

The RCN says salaries for experienced nurses today are 20 per cent lower in real terms than 2010.

Its walkouts in January will only affect trusts in England this time round but the number hit is up by 25 per cent on the last round.

Mr Sunak sidestepped questions about whether the government could offer a one-off payment for nurses to bring the dispute to an end.

He said: “I’m really grateful to all our public sector workers, including those in the NHS and the fantastic job they do for us.

“As the Health Secretary and I have previously said our door is always open.”

But Downing Street insiders suggested there has not been a change in approach at the moment.

During a visit to a homeless shelter in London, Mr Sunak ruled out reopening the current pay deal of around four per cent recommended by an independent body.

He added: “What I’m trying to do is make the right long-term decisions for the country, for everybody’s benefit.

“We all know the major economic challenge we all face now is inflation, it’s inflation eating into everyone’s pay packets.

“I want to make sure we reduce inflation, part of that is being responsible when it comes to setting public sector pay. That’s why we have an independent process.

“I know things are difficult but it’s right there’s an independent body that makes recommendations to the Government and the Government accepted those. It increased its offer, matched all those recommendations, I think that’s the reasonable thing to do. And in the long term it’s the right thing for the whole country that we beat inflation.”

In a statement, NHS Providers said disruption to patient services caused by strikes in the last two weeks saw thousands of appointments being rescheduled or cancelled.

“This will have a domino effect on health and care services for days to come and will only be compounded by further industrial action in the new year,” a spokesman said.

“Though many will welcome next week’s ambulance strike being suspended, it means the disruption is being deferred to the new year, which is an extremely difficult period for trust leaders even in normal circumstances.

“We understand how nurses and ambulance staff feel, and how they have reached this point. Below-inflation pay awards, the cost-of-living crisis, severe staff shortages and ever-increasing workloads make for near-impossible conditions.

“It’s deeply concerning that escalated and prolonged action is set to unfold in January. Serious talks, including specifically on pay, need to take place between health ministers and unions without delay.”

Meanwhile, ambulance workers in the GMB union announced they were suspending a planned strike on December 28.

The union said there was “incredible” support during industrial action it carried out in coordination with members of Unite and Unison on Wednesday.

But the GMB said it wanted to avoid causing “anxiety” among the public over Christmas.

Rachel Harrison, GMB national secretary, said: “We are overwhelmed by Wednesday’s amazing public support for our paramedics and ambulance staff.

“People across the country have been wonderful in backing us and we care so much about them too.

“That’s why we are suspending the proposed GMB industrial action on December 28.

“We know the public will appreciate being able to enjoy Christmas without any additional anxiety. They support us and we support them.”

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