Sir Keir Starmer says 19% pay rise for nurses is 'unaffordable' as he pleas for last-ditch talks to stop strikes

12 December 2022, 10:05 | Updated: 12 December 2022, 12:40

Nurses striking outside Downing Street and Keir Starmer
Nurses striking outside Downing Street and Keir Starmer. Picture: Getty and LBC
Fran Way

By Fran Way

Keir Starmer has said a 19% pay rise for nurses is unaffordable for the government.

As many as 100,000 nurses across England will walk out on Thursday in strike action expected to hit all but the most critical of departments such as A&E and intensive care.

It will be the biggest walkout in the history of the NHS leaving hospitals shortly staffed, and operations cancelled just days before Christmas.

The Royal College of Nursing wants a five percent pay rise above retail inflation, meaning a hike of 19.2 percent.

READ MORE: Hospitals in England are paying up to £5,200 for a single agency doctor shift, an investigation has revealed

READ MORE: Striking nurses say they might cancel walkout if government takes talks 'seriously'

Every one percent increase in salaries costs £700million, making the total government cost for meeting the demand in the region of £10billion – 6.5 percent of the total NHS budget.

On this morning’s Call Keir on LBC, the Labour leader was asked to confirm his opinion of the strikes by caller Kirsty, an intensive care nurse in the NHS.

Kirsty told him that while MPs have had a near 28% salary increase over the last decade, she has only seen an uplift of two or three percent leaving her struggling and ‘actually losing money’.

Starmer says 19% pay demand for nurses is more than government can afford

Keir replied: “Firstly, thank you for what you do as a nurse, I know how tough it is. My wife works in the NHS so this is a discussion we have almost every night so I do know how hard it is.

“I want to see nurses paid well, under the last Labour government we had two things: fair pay for workers and we didn’t have strikes. Now here we are a few days before Christmas facing the possibility of a strike on Thursday.”

While he confirmed that he wants to see this issue resolved, he added: “I think 19% is more than can be afforded by the government,”

“But I would get around the table and negotiate something that would work for both sides,” he said.

Adding: “Everybody I’ve spoken to, and we’ve got a lot of people in our family who work for the NHS, and nobody wants to take industrial action, of course they don’t. What everybody wants to do is this: we’ve got Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday now to say to the government get around the table, show some leadership, resolve this…because there’s a general sense whether its nurses or anybody else that Britain isn’t working under this government.”

Starmer says government needs to get on with 'disputes' around the table and negotiate nurses' pay.

Earlier this month Prime Minister Rishi Sunak insisted he had ‘enormous respect and gratitude’ for nurses but a 19% pay hike they are striking for is ‘obviously unaffordable’.

Mr Sunak said he wants to “find a way through this” but claimed most of the public would agree that the demand for a £10 billion settlement cannot be met.

Rishi Sunak speaking at the RAF base in Lincolnshire
Rishi Sunak speaking at the RAF base in Lincolnshire. Picture: Getty

The Prime Minister said: “I have enormous respect and gratitude to our nurses as everyone does for the incredible job they do.

“And I know things are difficult right now for everyone because of what’s happening with inflation.

“And that’s why our plans that we outlined last week will get a grip of inflation and bring it down. That’s really important.

“And in the meantime, what the unions are asking for, I think, is a 19 percent pay rise. And I think most people watching will recognise that that’s obviously unaffordable, and that’s why I’m pleased that the Health Secretary is sitting down, talking to the union, and hopefully we can find a way through this.”