Sunak accused of ‘leadership abdication’ during NHS pay dispute

Sunak accused of ‘leadership abdication’ during NHS pay dispute

A massive strike by NHS staff in February could be a “very bad day” for the health service, unions have warned, as they urged the Prime Minister to act to prevent the biggest strike the NHS has ever experienced.

Unite said Health Secretary Steve Barclay “has no authority” to negotiate wage deals and urged Rishi Sunak to call a meeting with union leaders.

The union said the prime minister had been “missing in action” during the dispute and accused him of an “abdication of leadership”.

It comes as thousands of ambulance workers are staging the third strike in five weeks in the bitter dispute over pay.

Up to 15,000 Unison ambulance workers are on picket lines and have been joined by up to 5,000 of their NHS colleagues at two hospital trusts in Liverpool.

More strikes are planned in the coming weeks by nurses and other NHS workers.

Thousands of nurses and ambulance workers will walk out on February 6 if an agreement is not reached by then, possibly the biggest day of strikes in the history of the health service.

Sharon Graham, Unite’s general secretary, told LBC radio: “There are many, many days between now and February 6, and I hope the government comes to its senses, gathers the general secretaries around the table; we’ll be there anytime, anytime.” anywhere, anywhere, and make this deal.

“So, I really hope that February 6 doesn’t go ahead because the government puts an offer on the table.

“If they don’t do that, of course it will go ahead (and) it will be a very bad day for the NHS, everyone will feel it.”

Mr Barclay has described “constructive talks with unions on next year’s pay process for 2023/24”, but the unions have called for the 2022/23 pay award to be reviewed.

Ms Graham added: “The Prime Minister is missing in action.

“There hasn’t been a single meeting that has been about the payment of 22/23 and, frankly, we are almost negotiating with the Government on the airways (sic).

“So therefore what I am asking today is for Rishi Sunak to come out of hiding, do his job as the leader of this country and start negotiating on this particular dispute.

“They have gone up the airways talking about constructive meetings. I don’t know what meetings they’re in, because they’re certainly not the same ones I’m in; I cannot put ‘constructive meetings’ on a voting form. I need them to come with an offer.”

She told Sky News: “I want Rishi Sunak to come to the table now. It’s very clear that Steve Barclay doesn’t have any authority, he doesn’t have the authority to make the deal.

“The prime minister has not spoken to us at all about this in any way, shape or form.

“This is your responsibility. This is the biggest abdication of leadership I have seen in negotiations in 30 years of negotiation. You need to do the job you were paid to do – sit around the table so these people can now go back to work.

“I am the leader of the largest union in the private sector – the private sector would not operate like this in negotiations of this caliber… the CEO will be in a room with me, he will negotiate and get the deal back to the members. That is what the government has to do.

“Either Rishi Sunak is not up to the job and doesn’t know how to negotiate, or there is something more sinister here.”

Meanwhile, Unison suggested that the “block” in the negotiations came from the Treasury.

Sara Gorton, Unison union’s head of health, told BBC Breakfast: “It seems the lockdown is at Chancellor level, which is really ironic because Jeremy Hunt, just a few months ago, was writing reports as chairman of ( Health and Social Care) Select Committee, talking about the investment needed to solve the employment emergency in the NHS, so they know more than anyone what it takes.

“It has also worked with unions very constructively to resolve disputes before – it worked with Unison and other healthcare unions to resolve the 2014/15 pay dispute.

“So you have a history of working with us to do this. We just want you to do it again. And put an end to this before more strikes are necessary.”

Thousands of members of the Unison, Unite and GMB unions are to march across England and Wales on Monday.

From 7am, paramedics, emergency care attendants, ambulance technicians, other 999 crew members and control room staff across five services in England (London, Yorkshire, North West, North East and South West) They joined the pickets.

Porters, cleaners, nurses, midwives, health care assistants, theater staff and other NHS workers at Liverpool University Hospitals Trust and the city’s Heart and Chest Hospital are also on strike.

On Sunday, Ms Graham indicated that union members would consider a 10% pay increase.

But a double-digit pay increase for nurses was scrapped last week after Barclay said it was “not affordable”.

In a statement on Sunday, Barclay said: “It is very disappointing that some ambulance workers continue to take industrial action. While we have contingency plans in place to mitigate risks to patient safety, there will inevitably be more disruptions.

“It is important that people continue to seek treatment – ​​call 999 in life-threatening emergencies and use NHS 111 online, local pharmacies and GP services for non-life-threatening care.

“I have had constructive discussions with unions about next year’s pay process for 2023/24, and I look forward to further talking about what is affordable and fair.”

NHS chief medical officer Professor Sir Stephen Powis said: “As with other ambulance strikes, the message to patients remains that it is vital to come forward and seek emergency care if necessary.

“This includes calling 999 for life-threatening emergencies, as well as using 111 online for other health needs where you will receive clinical advice on the best next steps.

“People should also continue to use local services, such as pharmacies and general practice, as they normally would, which are not affected by the strike.”

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