Thousands of NHS operations and appointments are being canceled across England, Wales and Northern Ireland, after last-minute talks failed to avert the first nursing strike in a generation.
Up to 100,000 members of the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) are expected to retire on Thursday, with only “life and limb” cover available and surgery limited to cancer patients and emergencies.
Ministers said they were “straining every sinew” to mitigate the impact of industrial action on the public, but Labor accused the government of “picking a fight” with unions after health secretary Steve Barclay refused to discuss salaries in talks with RCN’s executive director. Pat Cullen.
Before the meeting, Ms Cullen made it clear that the RCN was ready to cancel a strike planned for December 21 if ministers were willing to negotiate on her demand for a 5 per cent above-inflation wage increase. .
But after an hour of talks, Ms Cullen said: “I needed to come out of this meeting with something serious to show the nurses why they shouldn’t go on strike this week. Unfortunately, they are not getting an extra penny. I expressed my deep disappointment at the belligerence: They closed their books and left.”
A trusted NHS chief said the independent that less urgent clinics and operations scheduled for Thursday have already been postponed, but more may be canceled that day.
“There is a risk of same-day cancellations as we have tried to keep as many cancer jobs booked as possible until the last minute,” the senior NHS manager said. “What we don’t know yet is how many nurses may have wanted to register a protest but were unwilling to withdraw due to patient concerns.”
Senior NHS sources speaking to the independent they have said services will be “hugely” affected as “nightmare” negotiations with local RCN representatives are leaving hospitals in the dark about which services they can operate in the day.
A senior NHS source said the service is likely to have to cancel 4,000 appointments and 300 operations to maintain a “safe” level of care. RCN representatives agreed to maintain an “overnight” staffing level, which would be lower than the level anticipated on bank holidays.
The chaos caused by the strikes is likely to affect the trusts for a period of time after the nurses return to work, as they will have to reschedule appointments, the independent It was said.
Industrial action in a variety of sectors threatens to bring much of Britain to a standstill in the coming days, with RMT rail workers staging a two-day strike on Tuesday and Wednesday and then another on Friday and Saturday.
Driving examiners in parts of the UK are unplugging tools for the rest of the week, with postal workers beginning their latest two-day stoppage on Wednesday, while groups including ambulance workers, civil servants and Force officers Border also plan the action.
Troops are preparing to man passport booths at airports and drive ambulances to fill the gaps. But Downing Street acknowledged that their deployment would not be enough to prevent a “significant” disruption to services, as armed forces personnel are only allowed to operate ambulances on non-emergency journeys, as they are not cleared to drive in blue light conditions. .
Health Minister Will Quince told the House of Commons that the government could block the booking of taxis on days when ambulance strikes were expected, to transport patients with less serious conditions to hospital.
Pressure on ministers intensified when planned strikes by ambulance staff and NHS workers in Scotland were called off after members of two healthcare unions voted to accept an improved offer from the Scottish government. The offer will offer salary increases of up to £2,751. For the lowest-paid workers, the deal is worth 11.3 percent, with an average increase of 7.5 percent.
Barclay insisted he would not budge from the £1,400 increase recommended by the independent pay review body for NHS workers outside Scotland. This equates to an average of 4 or 5 percent.
Labour’s shadow health secretary Wes Streeting accused Barclay of “picking a fight” and refusing to engage with health care unions, insisting that “a few hours of talks” over pay could still prevent the action this week.
“The power to stop these strikes rests squarely with the government and the secretary of state,” Streeting said. “They want to blame the nurses, the paramedics, the NHS staff for the challenges in the NHS that are the direct fault and responsibility of 12 years of Conservative mismanagement. Frankly, I think it’s disgusting.”
Cabinet Office Minister Oliver Dowden urged unions to step back from the strike to “give families a breather” over the festive season.
Mr Dowden chaired a meeting of the government’s Cobra emergencies committee, where senior military and health officials briefed ministers on efforts being made to limit the impact of the strikes. He said ministers would be “pulling all the strings” to minimize risks to the public, but conceded: “We can’t remove them.”
Earlier Monday, Barclay said giving in to the payment demands would take money from efforts to clear the backlog of 7 million patients waiting for treatment.
“I don’t want to take money from clearing the arrears, which is what we would have to do,” he told the BBC. “We would have to take money from patients waiting for operations to then finance the extra payment.”
Meanwhile, the threat of Network Rail strikes affecting planned engineering work over Christmas was confirmed, as RMT members voted 63.6 percent to reject the company’s wage offer.