Nursing union leader calls on Sunak to intervene ahead of biggest NHS walkout in history

A nursing union leader is calling on the prime minister to intervene on the evening of the biggest NHS walkout in history.

Royal College of Nursing’s director for England, Patricia Marquis, has told Sky News that so far there has been no “direct contact” with Rishi Sunak despite four previous strike days.

“It’s a cry out to Rishi Sunak”, she said, “to come to the table to seek a resolution. So far we’ve not had direct contact with him, all of our efforts have been through the secretary of state for health.

“And those have not really brought us any solutions.

“So really, now, we don’t want the strikes to go ahead tomorrow or at any point. And we’re really calling on the prime minister to intervene, to come to the table and seek a resolution with us.”

Monday 6 February will see tens of thousands of NHS workers including nurses, in England, and GMB union ambulance workers, in England and Wales, taking industrial action in a dispute over pay and conditions.

On Tuesday 7 February, a second day of nursing strikes will take place.

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Thursday 9 February will see more than 4,000 NHS physiotherapists walk out across England.

And on Friday there will be more ambulance worker strikes – this time members represented by Unison in London, Yorkshire, the South West, the North East and North West.

Carmel O’Boyle has been a nurse in Scotland and Liverpool for six years, and an NHS worker for nearly two decades.

She describes making the “horrendous” and “emotional” decision to strike.

“No nurse wants to strike,” she said, “but the wages just aren’t compatible with the cost of living”.

“We need a wage increase that is in line with inflation so that we can attract people, and keep people in the profession so that we can give the care to our patients that we want to deliver.”

Strikes will have ‘impact on patients’

The health secretary has described the industrial action as “regrettable” and said the strikes will “undoubtedly have an impact on patients and cause delays to NHS services”.

Carmel says the government needs to understand that “people aren’t dying because nurses are striking, nurses are striking because people are dying”.

Read more:
Nurses urge PM to take ‘swift’ action to avert strike
Junior doctors ‘likely’ to go on strike next month

Concern has also been raised over the impact the strikes will have on the NHS backlog of treatment and waiting lists.

Kim Whyman has been waiting for surgery on her elbow for two years.

It often dislocates and she often has to “pop it back in” herself. Her operation to stabilise it was scheduled for Monday, but due to strikes it has been cancelled for the second time.

Mrs Whyman, from Norfolk, describes being in pain regularly and is worried about the amount of painkillers she has to take, over a longer period of time, while she waits for surgery.

She works as a receptionist in a GP surgery but is “angry” over her care being disrupted.

‘It’s not fair’

“I’m not very happy,” she told Sky News. “You build yourself up to go into hospital and this is the second time it’s been cancelled in just under a month.

“I understand where (nurses) are coming from. But it’s everybody that’s been affected by their strike. Not just nurses.

“It’s patients and families, there are people worse off than me that are being cancelled as well. And it’s not fair”.

She said she wants immediate action from the government: “Give them a pay rise.”

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Junior doctors ‘likely to strike’

The RCN and other NHS unions in Wales called off strikes in Wales this week after receiving a new pay offer from the Welsh government, while negotiations in Scotland are ongoing.

In a statement from the government, Health Secretary Steve Barclay said: “We accepted the recommendations of the independent pay review body to give over one million NHS workers, including nurses and ambulance workers, a pay rise of at least £1,400 this financial year, on top of an increase the previous year when wider public sector pay was frozen”.

He added: “I have been having constructive talks with unions about what is affordable for 2023/24, and urge them to call off the strikes and come back around the table.”