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Ministers passing the buck to NHS strikers are exposing the blood on their hands

by Ozva Admin
Ministers passing the buck to NHS strikers are exposing the blood on their hands

just last month, it was learned that Rishi Sunak he planned to stop the ministers’ daily appearances on the “morning media round” of radio and television shows.

judging by him Steve Barclay performance As he spoke of today’s ambulance strike, it’s not hard to see why. In a master class on how to dismantle a politician’s spin and dodge, Radio 4’s Mishal Husain exposed the thinness of the Health Secretary’s arguments, one by one.

By refusing to compromise on more pay for NHS staff, Barclay claimed the government was simply continuing the “long-standing process” of accepting the recommendation of an independent pay review body.

But Husain correctly pointed out that other past and present ministers (including the Ministry of Justice this year) had in fact rejected such independent recommendations. In other words, the ministers withdrew from the process when it suited them.

When Barclay tried the other well-worn line — that there are 9,000 more nurses, three percent more doctors, a 25 percent expansion of places for medical students next year — it wasn’t long before it was pointed out. to him that those increases are still not enough to fill the 132,000 vacancies in the NHS.

Barclay’s insistence that he couldn’t “get rid of” the current pay offer because we were three-quarters of the way through the year didn’t hold up for long either. The Government has “disarmed” (that is, improved) its Help with household electricity bills throughout this year precisely because the war in Ukraine exceeded previous assumptions and caused roaring inflation.

With the current NHS pay offer set in February before the war, a simple compromise would be to ask the pay review body to take Taking into account real inflation in 2022. Rishi Sunak has ruled this out, but when the stakes are so high right now, it’s hard to see exactly why.

However, Barclay pointed to a new strategy for the government, which was to offer jam tomorrow to make up for today’s light porridge. he talked about the salary review process is already underway for next year’s salaries, giving a hint that it could generate a higher salary. “That agency will consider changes in inflation,” he said.

Unfortunately, that ray of hope can be extinguished rather quickly for two reasons. First, there is the obvious fact that the letter from the Secretary of Health establishing the mandate for the NHS paying agency made it clear that he wanted a hard line.

Crucially, he said, “it is particularly important that it also take the government’s inflation target into account when making recommendations.” Given that the inflation target is 2 percent, and that actual inflation next year is likely to be much higher (though hopefully it will fall), that doesn’t seem like much flexibility.

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The second problem with dangling the prospect of higher pay awards next year is that relations are now so bad between Barclay and the unions that it’s hard to see why they would trust a word he says, as well as the process itself.

That confidence sank further when the Secretary of Health decided to escalate the rhetoric ahead of the ambulance strike. Unison boss Christine McAnea was furious in its overnight warning that “ambulance unions have made a conscious decision to inflict harm on patients.”

Barclay tried to defend that hard line by saying unions like Unison had taken a different stance than the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) on emergency cover, ruling out national arrangements and only allowing local ones.

However, this also smacked of spin. While the RCN did agree to national “exceptions” to allow cancer surgery, chemotherapy and dialysis, they do not normally involve 999 calls. Furthermore, the RCN made it clear that most of its exceptions were agreed to. between his local strike committees and individual hospital trusts, just like Unison.

In fact, Unison has been working for weeks locally with NHS trusts to enable them to plan the strike. I have been sent a very detailed Unison-NHS agreement for London and it shows that those on the picket line will respond to key emergencies. The Yorkshire Ambulance Service has also told the union that it appreciates their close cooperation.

A union whistleblower told me that Barclay had never called for a national agreement on derogations and when he met with the unions on Tuesday, he agreed to their local arrangements. “It seems that he now wants to make up an additional reason not to talk to us about the payment,” said one.

The rail strikes they are an abject lesson in how to mismanage industrial action. There is reason for a breakthrough in the new year, precisely because ministers like Mark Harper and Huw Merriman have finally rolled up their sleeves and used their convening power among employers and unions.

However, in the NHS, the government seems not to have learned the lesson that the key to strike action is to reach a quick deal (as Nicola Sturgeon did with nurses in Scotland) that avoids or minimizes disruption, rather than embarking on in a long war of attrition that undermines morale on all sides.

The billions needed to foot the bill would have to come from somewhere (more taxes on the banks and Big Oil can help), but the full cost to the economy of not Improved NHS wages should also be taken into account. Our wealth is linked to our health, and coping with the Covid build-up (particularly for treatments for the over-50s) frees up more people to return to the workplace.

Governments often have to make concessions or U-turns, but the longer it takes to make them, the more political capital is spent each time. If an agreement is reached this year or next, patients will ask: why didn’t you fix that sooner and avoid all this mess? The weak ministerial lines of conduct towards the media do not order strikes, adult negotiations do.

Perhaps most worryingly, ministers currently do not appear to have an exit strategy. They may be waiting for union members to shut down, but the RMT strike shows that that can take a long, long time. On Friday, RCN boss Pat Cullen will announce a new wave of nurses’ strikes for January, due to Barclay’s refusal to budge.

Without resolution, the strikes only feed the general feeling that nothing, from getting a passport to having a hip operation, really works in Tory Britain. The risk for ministers is that collective action will not only lead to a further backlog of medical treatment, but also a new backlog of resentment in the ruling party.

Some on the right are already swooping in like vultures to suggest that the NHS’s free care model is “beyond repair”. But for many it is not the health service that feels hopelessly broken, it is this Government.

The number of patients who died on the way to the hospital in ambulances has more than doubled in the last year, going from 40 to 93 year after year. For West Midlands Ambulance Service onlythe annual numbers increased from a single death in 2020 to 37 as of September 2022. Chronic delays are considered the leading cause.

So when ministers try to suggest that NHS staff will have blood on their hands because of the strikes, that can only alert the public to blood already on their hands.

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