Members of the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) will stage their second walkout across England, Wales and Northern Ireland today – as Health Secretary Steve Barclay is set to hold crisis talks with ambulance worker unions on emergency strike cover.
Tens of thousands of nurses took part in the first day of strike action last Thursday in their first mass walkout in a century.
The industrial action, a bid to secure above-inflation pay rises, will proceed again today after no breakthrough was found between the government and the Royal College of Nursing (RCN).
Picket lines are expected to be in place at dozens of hospitals and thousands of nhs Appointments and operations are set to be cancelled, with the health service running a bank holiday-style service in many areas.
The RCN has said it will still staff chemotherapy, emergency cancer services, dialysis, critical care units, neonatal and pediatric intensive care.
When it comes to adult A&E and urgent care, nurses will work Christmas Day-style rotas.
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The government has accepted recommendations made by the NHS Pay Review Body (PRB) to give nurses below inflation pay rises of around 4%.
The RCN has been calling for a pay rise of 19% – 5% above inflation – though it has indicated it would accept a lower offer.
Ahead of the second day of nursing strikes, RCN general secretary and chief executive, Pat Cullen warned Rishi Sunak to “listen to people around him” or face continued strikes next year.
“The prime minister should ask himself what is motivating nursing staff to stand outside their hospitals for a second day so close to Christmas,” she said.
“They are prepared to sacrifice a day’s pay to have their concerns heard. Their determination stems as much from worries over patient safety and the future of the NHS than personal hardship.
“Rishi Sunak is under growing pressure in Westminster following last Thursday’s strike and he should listen to people around him.
Read more: Health Secretary Steve Barclay challenged by mother during hospital visit
“The public is increasingly with their local nursing staff and this government desperately needs to get on the right side of them. It is unprecedented for my members to strike.
“Let’s get this wrapped up by Christmas. I will negotiate with him at any point to stop nursing staff and patients going into the new year facing such uncertainty.
“But if this government isn’t prepared to do the right thing, we’ll have no choice but to continue in January and that will be deeply regrettable.”
Read More: How strike will impact A&E and other NHS services – and which hospitals are affected
When the RCN submitted the 5% figure to the independent pay review body in March, inflation was running at 7.5%.
But inflation has since soared, with RPI standing at 14.2% in September.
The health secretary reiterated that the RCN’s demands are “unaffordable”.
“I hugely value the work of our NHS staff and it is disappointing some union members are going ahead with further strike action when we know the impact this has on patients,” he said.
“My number one priority remains keeping patients as safe as possible and I’ve been working closely with the NHS and across government to protect safe staffing levels.
“The NHS remains open, patients should continue to come forward for emergency and urgent medical care. They should also continue to turn up to appointments unless they have been contacted by the NHS.
“The RCN’s demands are unaffordable during these challenging times and would take money away from frontline services while they are still recovering from the impact of the pandemic.
“I’m open to engaging with the unions on how to make the NHS a better place to work.”
Meanwhile, Mr Barclay is due to meet with members of Unite, Unison and GMB unions this afternoon to get assurances from union officials that Category 2 incidents – such as strokes or cases of serious chest pain – will be attended to during industrial action.
Sources say the health secretary will not discuss increasing wages during the fresh talks.
Ambulance workers are due to strike on 21 and 28 December.
The UK is facing a wave of strikes this winter, with at least one walkout a day ahead of Christmas, as staff from different industries seek better pay.
Read more: Who are striking on what day?
From transport to the NHS, education to delivery drivers, tens of thousands of workers are taking action as recession grips the UK and the cost of living laughs.
Mr Sunak will be probed in the continued strike chaos when he makes his debut appearance at the Liaison Committee on the last day of the parliamentary term this afternoon.
He will face questions from chairs of the parliamentary committees on global issues, the UK’s place in the world and economic issues – including the cost of living.