'You're putting more lives at risk' unions warned as NHS strikes risk causing 'worst day of disruption yet'

6 February 2023, 05:50 | Updated: 6 February 2023, 09:30

Nurses are going on strike with ambulance workers
Nurses are going on strike with ambulance workers. Picture: Alamy

By Will Taylor

Thousands of NHS workers will begin a week of walkouts today as unions were warned they are putting more lives at risk than in past strikes.

Nurses across 73 trusts in England are on strike on Monday and Tuesday, with some 10,000 ambulance staff also taking action on Monday – the first time both have walked out at the same time.

Ambulance workers will walk out again on Friday and physiotherapists from about a quarter of services will go on strike on Thursday.

The strikes are set to force 50,000 operations and appointments to be called off.

NHS Providers chief executive Sir Julian Hartley staff had reached "tipping point" and said a negotiation needed to be reached, with 88,000 appointments having already been cancelled during the ongoing strikes.

"We're facing a crunch point. Monday's co-ordinated walkout by nurses and ambulance workers could see the worst disruption yet for the NHS," he said.

Read more: Extra divers called in to search for Nicola Bulley as images released of her latest appearance

A government source said: "More lives will be at risk during today's strike than any previous walkouts.

"It will also cause further delay to appointments and backlogs."

But unions have tried to tie their strikes with a desire for more investment in the NHS.

Pressure is growing on the Government to finally thrash out a deal with health service workers as Pat Cullen, the Royal College of Nursing chief executive, told Rishi Sunak that the Welsh government was approaching a deal there.

Nurses go on strike again
Nurses go on strike again. Picture: Alamy

The Government has described union demands as unaffordable and unrealistic in an era of high inflation.

And health secretary Steve Barclay has insisted the Government's pay offers are in line with the recommendations of the NHS Pay Review Body.

Read more: 'We're in it for the long haul': Rail union boss warns strikes could last for years as workers walk out again

Ms Cullen said: "[On Friday] the Welsh government made an offer of an additional 3 per cent for the current financial year.

"Consequently, we cancelled our strike action in Wales for Monday and Tuesday. In Scotland, negotiations continue over additional funding for the current year too and there are no planned strikes.

"Your government looks increasingly isolated in refusing to reopen 2022-23 [pay negotiations]. As a result, the strike action for England next week remains, with tens of thousands of individuals losing wages to ensure you hear their voice. It must not be in vain.

Ambulance workers will join nurses on strike this week
Ambulance workers will join nurses on strike this week. Picture: Alamy

"It will be the biggest day of industrial action in the 75-year history of the NHS. Nursing staff find that a sobering realisation of how far they have been pushed to protect patient care and secure some respect for the nursing profession."

A third of England's nursing services will see strikes as part of the RCN action, while GMB and Unite ambulance workers will join them. Emergency cover will be provided, with the Government having drafted in soldiers to cover some roles during past action.

Friday's ambulance worker strikes will see Unison members walk out at five of the ten services in England.

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