Patients reveal their woe after striking nurses force the NHS to cancel 70,000 appointments as senior Tories demand better pay for health workers
- Ministers face mounting pressure from their MPs to resolve the nursing strikes
- Cancer patients among those denied care as thousands of nurses protested
- The Royal College of Nursing called the first national strike in its 106-year history
Ministers face mounting pressure from their own MPs to resolve the nursing strikes after walkouts forced the NHS to cancel up to 70,000 appointments.
Cancer patients were among those denied care yesterday as tens of thousands of nurses took industrial action that reduced hospitals to a Christmas Day service.
The Royal College of Nursing called the first national strike in its 106-year history after the Government refused to cave in to demands for a 19.2 per cent pay rise.
Health minister Maria Caulfield stood by the decision to award nurses a 4 per cent rise, as recommended by the independent pay review body.
Nurses at Newcastle’s Royal Victoria Infirmary RVI hospital get caught up in a snow storm as they form a picket line yesterday
A nurse in London holds a sign which reads ‘I thought we were heroes?’ – a reference to the clap for carers during the pandemic
The pay review process which has set wages in the NHS for 40 years was in crisis yesterday.
The independent body in charge has come under fire from trade unions over the 3 per cent rise offered to nurses and other NHS staff. Pat Cullen of the Royal College of Nursing said there was ‘nothing independent’ about the process.
She added: ‘It was set up by government, paid by government, appointed by government and the parameters are set by government, so there’s nothing independent about it.’
The GMB union, whose paramedic members are due to strike next week, is poised to boycott the process.
The PM’s spokesman insisted it was an established and independent mechanism.
She said the union’s demands are unaffordable, with each extra percentage point costing taxpayers £800million.
But Steve Brine, the Conservative chairman of the Commons health and social care committee, and Sir Jake Berry, the former chairman of the Conservative Party, called on ministers to reconsider their position in a bid to avert further chaos.
It came as furious patients complained about urgent operations being cancelled at the last minute. Heather Smith, 75, was due to have a pre-operative injection at Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham on Wednesday, followed by a lumpectomy – the removal of abnormal tissue – at Solihull Hospital yesterday.
But she and her husband Nick, of Walmley in Sutton Coldfield, were told both procedures were being postponed because of the industrial action.
Mr Smith said: ‘My wife is distraught. We were called at 10.10am on Wednesday to say everything was cancelled. We had our coats on to go to the QE. Now this has been cancelled, she could lose her breast. We don’t know now when this will go ahead.’
Mr Brine said it would be a good idea to ask the independent panel to review its advice, which was given before inflation surged amid the war in Ukraine. ‘Everyone needs to cool it and I think sending it back to the pay review body to have a look would be a sensible answer,’ he told the BBC’s World At One Programme.
He suggested this would be a way for the RCN to step back from its second day of strikes, planned for next Tuesday.
Sir Jake said the Government is ‘going to have to improve its offer’. He told Talk TV: ‘We need to find a way as a Government, and the union does too, to get to that centre point, that point of agreement straight away.’
But Health Secretary Steve Barclay appeared to rule out any movement during a visit to Chelsea and Westminster Hospital.
Pressed on whether he is willing to discuss pay with the RCN, he said: ‘We’ve been clear that we have an independent process and that is the process we followed.’
Mick Lynch, secretary general of the RMT Union, joins nurses on a picket line at St Mary’s Hospital in Paddington, west London
A NHS nurse holds a placard during a protest outside St. Thomas’ Hospital in central London on day one of the two strikes taking place this month
LABOUR MPs DEFY SIR KEIR STARMER
Labour shadow ministers yesterday backed the nurses’ strike, despite Sir Keir Starmer warning that the pay demands were unaffordable.
Sir Keir has banned frontbenchers from picket lines, and yesterday said nothing about the historic strike by nurses.
But the shadow mental health minister Rosena Allin-Khan publicly backed the strikers with her ‘full support’. Miss Allin-Khan, a doctor in the shadow cabinet, said: ‘Solidarity with all of our nurses taking action today.’
Deputy leader Angela Rayner said striking nurses ‘deserve fair pay, safe working conditions and respect’. MP Sam Tarry also voiced ‘solidarity’.
More than a dozen Labour MPs joined picket lines.
The RCN has been calling for a pay rise at 5 per cent above the RPI measure of inflation, which was running at 7.5 per cent when it submitted its request to the pay review board in March.
But inflation has since soared, with RPI standing at 14.2 per cent in September. Ms Caulfield told Sky News: ‘Cancer surgeries are going to be closed in 44 trusts in England. We reckon it’s about 70,000 appointments, procedures, surgeries that will be lost.’
The RCN staffed chemotherapy, emergency cancer services, dialysis, critical care units, neonatal and paediatric intensive care. Some areas of mental health and learning disability and autism services were also exempt, while trusts were told they could request staffing for specific clinical needs.
In adult A&E and urgent care, nurses worked Christmas Day-style rotas.
Nurses braving the cold on picket lines yesterday said they had no choice but to go on strike. Yoga Sundaram, 28, who works at the Queen’s Medical Centre in Nottingham, said: ‘Most of us are having to work an extra shift on top of our basic 37.5 hours a week, just to pay the bills. That extra money does not go towards savings or holidays, it’s just to keep our heads above the surface.’
Occupational health nurse Shan Robinson, 53, of Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge – where 2,000 appointments were abandoned due to the walkout – said: ‘We don’t really have much option other than going on strike.
‘We are understaffed because we are losing so many nurses and one of the reasons is low pay.’
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