No one ‘at any level’ in government in NHS pay talks, Unite says

There is nobody ‘at any level’ in government involved in discussions about NHS pay as the health service faces what is expected to be the biggest strike in its history, a union leader said.

Tens of thousands of nurses and ambulance staff in England are due to walk out on Monday, with nurses due to strike again on Tuesday and ambulance crews and call workers returning to the pickets on Friday.

United Secretary-General Sharon Graham was asked on the BBC program Sunday With Laura Kuenssberg if “on the eve of the biggest health strike in history are there no conversations between anyone in your union and anyone speaking for the government?”

Ms Graham replied: ‘I can tell you categorically that we are not in discussions at any level with the government about pay in the NHS, and this is a real abdication of responsibility.

“Why doesn’t Rishi Sunak come to the table? Instead of having some kind of press conference about other things, come to the table and negotiate – roll up your sleeves and negotiate on pay in the NHS, that’s what’s required.

“I can tell you categorically that there have been no conversations on pay with (Prime Minister) Rishi Sunak or (Health Secretary) Steve Barclay on this controversy, in any shape or form.

“They’ve danced around their purse, they’ve danced around the edges, but they won’t talk about pay.

“To me, this is an abdication of responsibility (since) the dispute is about pay, so how can they tell they’re in a deal?”

His comments come after nursing leaders made a direct appeal to Mr Sunak to intervene in their wage dispute.

In a letter to the Prime Minister, Royal College of Nursing (RCN) Secretary-General Pat Cullen said a “significant” pay offer from the government could still avert a strike.

He drew a comparison to his quick action to sack Conservative Party chairman Nadhim Zahawi after he was found to have violated ministerial code in relation to his tax affairs.

He wrote: “As last weekend’s rapid cabinet changes demonstrated, important decisions can be made by you at any time of the week in the interests of good governance.

Industrial strike

Royal College of Nursing secretary general Pat Cullen urged Rishi Sunak to intervene in pay dispute (Danny Lawson/PA)

“I urge you to use this weekend to reset your government in the public eye and show that it is on the side of the honest and hardworking tax payer.

“There could be no easier way to demonstrate this commitment than by ending the nurses’ strike.”

With negotiations also underway in Scotland, Cullen warned Sunak that his government was becoming “increasingly isolated”.

On the strikes in England on Monday, Cullen added: ‘It will be the biggest day of industrial action in the 75-year history of the NHS.

“Nursing staff realize how pressured they have been to protect patient care and ensure a certain respect for the nursing profession.”

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