Nurses set to walkout in biggest strike in NHS history

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

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Many routine treatments, including vital cancer services, will grind to a halt as thousands of staff join industrial action in a row over pay and conditions. More than half of voters support health workers’ demands for extra pay after they carried the nation through the horrors of the Covid pandemic.

The polling comes as Tory MPs warned Rishi Sunak he must step up his response to the strike chaos crippling the nation as more rail walkouts were announced and Royal Mail workers staged industrial action.

One senior Tory said the PM must be “tougher” with striking rail workers who refuse to modernise or work to make the network profitable again.

But the MP on the right of the party said ultimately the PM would have to make a compromise with nurses because they are paid by the state so “only the government can sort it out”.

They said the Prime Minister has failed to give a clear “narrative” about why the government was taking the position it has and there must be more “engagement”.

The Royal College of Nursing is demanding an inflation-busting 19 percent pay rise.

One Conservative moderate said most of the public believed that the demand was far too high but things would get “sticky” for the government if the RCN asked for a lower amount.

Polling by Ipsos found that public support for striking workers is highest for NHS staff, firefighters and teachers.

Some 52 percent of voters said they strongly supported health workers while just 27 percent were against.

Health Secretary Steve Barclay has had no contact with the RCN since talks collapsed on Monday evening and called for them to end the dispute.

He said: “I hope they can see sense and protect patients from further disruption.”

NHS Employers chief Danny Mortimer raised fears about the level of cover nurses will provide for cancer patients during Thursday’s strike.

“To be clear – real concerns remain,” he said.

“There are areas where we are disappointed that we have not been able to make more progress with the RCN, with the limited national derogations for cancer services a particular area of worry.”

The RCN has said it will still staff chemotherapy, emergency cancer services, dialysis, critical care units, neonatal and paediatric intensive care.

Some areas of mental health and learning disability and autism services are also exempt, while trusts have been told they can request staffing for specific clinical needs.

When it comes to adult A&E and urgent care, nurses will work Christmas Day-style rotas.

Pat Cullen, RCN General Secretary said: “Nurses are not relishing this, 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 Thursday 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.

“Our commitment to patients and safe care means that vital services are kept running. The scaremongering we have seen did upset some but also demonstrated the disrespect afforded to nurses for raising their voice. My plea to patients tonight is to know that this strike is for you too – it’s about waiting lists, treatments that are cancelled year-round and the very future of the NHS.”

Around 25,000 ambulance workers are set to strike next week.

Government insiders warned that health trusts were not being given the information needed about what cover will be provided on the day.

A source said: “They are keeping us in the dark, which is making it very difficult to plan for the strikes.

“It is putting lives at risk.”

Sir Keir Starmer urged Mr Sunak to negotiate with nurses over pay and claimed Thursday’s strike is a “badge of shame” for the Government.

The Labour leader said the “whole country would breathe a sigh of relief” if Mr Sunak opened the door to compromise.

Mr Sunak insisted his Government has “consistently spoken to all the unions involved in all the pay disputes” amid a wave of action this winter.

He said ministers have listened to the independent pay review bodies, adding: “We have offered a fair pay deal.”

Rail unions on Wednesday announced another wave of strikes over Christmas.

The Transport Salaried Staffs’ Association said around 700 of its members at West Midlands Trains and Great Western Railway (GWR) will walk out for 24 hours from noon on December 28.

But planned strikes by security guards on Eurostar this week have been called off to allow talks to continue.

The rail network is facing huge disruption over the festive period at the hands of the RMT.

General secretary Mick Lynch is due to hold another meeting on Thursday with employers and the Government although there is little sign of a breakthrough in the bitter row.

He said: “There needs to be a rebalancing of society where workers that create the wealth are rewarded properly for their endeavours and that will help create a happier and more prosperous country.”

Postal workers in the Communication Workers Union are continuing their national walkout on Thursday.

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