Today, nursing staff have staged their biggest walkout in the history of the NHS
Downing Street has said there are “no plans” to look again at the pay deal for nurses who are staging their biggest ever strike in the history of the NHS.
Number 10 and Health Secretary Steve Barclay stood firm on the issue of pay when questioned by reporters, despite some Tories calling for a rethink.
Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, also urged the Government to act, saying: “The Government cannot just sit back and let future strikes happen when patient care is on the line.
“The worry is that this is just the start, that strikes possibly being planned for January could be more severe and co-ordinated across the different unions, and that we could be in a position of stalemate for the foreseeable future. This benefits no-one and the Government must act.”
Thousands of nurses in England, Wales and Northern Ireland are taking part in industrial action – involving around a quarter of hospitals and community teams in England, all trusts in Northern Ireland and all but one health board in Wales.
Health minister Maria Caulfield said around 70,000 appointments, procedures and surgeries will be lost in England due to the strike. Thousands more will be affected in Northern Ireland and Wales.
Downing Street rejected calls from the former head of the independent pay review body for a possible rethink of the pay award in light of soaring inflation.
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “Certainly no plans to tell the independent body what to do.”
The idea of looking again at pay has been backed by several Tories, including Dr Dan Poulter, who told the Guardian that “inflation has significantly eroded real-terms pay since the review bodies made their recommendations earlier in the year” and the Government should “improve on the current offer on the table”.
Conservative MP Steve Brine also told the BBC’s World At One programme: “I think the way out is to protect the integrity of the process, go back and ask them to look again.
“Everyone needs to cool it and I think sending it back to the pay review body to have a look would be a sensible answer.”
Former Conservative Party chairman, Sir Jake Berry, also urged the Government to “improve its offer” on pay.
But Mr Barclay appeared to rule out any movement during a visit to London’s Chelsea and Westminster Hospital.
Pressed on whether he is willing to discuss pay with the RCN, Mr Barclay said: “We’ve been clear that we have an independent process and that is the process we followed.”
He said ministers “hugely value” the work of nurses, adding that three-quarters of NHS trusts in England are not on strike.
Mr Barclay has repeatedly said the Government is sticking to the recommendations of the independent pay review body, which said nurses should get a pay rise of about £1,400.
The RCN has been calling for a pay rise at 5% above inflation, though it has indicated it would accept a lower offer.
Elsewhere, chief nursing officer for England Dame Ruth May joined striking nurses on the picket line at St Thomas’ Hospital in central London.
According to The Times, She said on the picket line that she supports striking nurses, and ministers must reach an “urgent resolution” with the RCN.
Asked about her appearance, the Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “She doesn’t work for the Government, she’s not a minister.
“Obviously she has her own view as chief nurse. The Government must consider what is a responsible action in the round.”
In a video posted on Twitter from the hospital, Dame Ruth said: “I’m here today at St Thomas’ to thank all nurses.
“Of course pay is a matter between the unions and the Government and I’d like to see, as nurses across the country would like to see, a resolution as soon as possible.”
On Thursday, the NHS was running a bank holiday-style service in many areas, though the RCN is staffing chemotherapy, emergency cancer services, dialysis, critical care units, neonatal and paediatric intensive care, alongside several other services.
Speaking earlier, RCN chief executive Pat Cullen said there is “nothing independent” about the independent pay review body process whose parameters are “set by Government”, as she suggested future strikes are likely.
She told PA: “I woke up this morning very, very early and felt heartbroken as a nurse.
“First of all, tragic that I have to lead the profession on to the picket lines to have their voice heard, and I think that is a serious indictment of this Government.
“It’s tragic for nursing, it’s tragic for patients and it’s tragic for the NHS that the Government feels that they can sit in their offices today and keep our nurses out in the cold.”
She said patients across the NHS deserve the best possible care “that they cannot get because of 50,000 vacant nursing posts”.
She said more needs to be done to stop nurses leaving for other jobs, such as in supermarkets and retail, adding: “It’s up to this Government. They have a responsibility to address those vacant nursing posts and stop the drain out of our profession.
“How are they going to do that? They need to do that by paying nurses a decent wage.
“(Nurses) are not being greedy, they are asking for the 20% that has been taken out of their pay over the last decade to be put back in and to make sure that they can continue and care for their patients.”
On BBC Breakfast, Ms Cullen said Mr Barclay had told her she could talk about “anything but pay”.
She added: “That’s going to resolve nothing. What it is going to do is to continue with days like this.”
Ms Cullen later hailed the success of the first strike day.
“Today will be a turning point in the campaign for fair nursing pay. At the end of it, ministers find themselves under fresh pressure from unexpected places – their own MPs, NHS leaders and a former chair of the Pay Review Body,” she said in a statement.
Outside Aintree University Hospital in Liverpool, Pamela Jones, who has been a nurse for 32 years, told the PA news agency: “The public need to understand the pressures that everyone’s under. You’ve only got to come into A&E and see the queues, there’s no beds.
“We want to save our NHS, we don’t want it to go, and I think this is the way forward, it’s the only way we can put our point across.”
Liverpool staff nurse Kelly Hopkins, 46, who has been a nurse for 25 years, said she felt “sad” when she went in to work.
She told PA: “I have connections with the food bank and there are more and more nurses using the food bank, which is just not acceptable.
“They’re having to use food banks, they’re coming in cold, they’re going without food to feed their children, it’s just crazy.”
She said she was motivated to strike over safe staffing levels, adding: “The wards are understaffed, which is affecting patient care.
“I came into nursing to give good nursing care and we can’t give it because there’s not enough of it.
“Patients aren’t getting their teeth brushed, they’re lying in their own waste because there aren’t enough of us, we can’t split ourselves in two, especially on the wards.
“Unless we stand up and say something, it’s just going to get worse.”