Nurse strikes leaving NHS operating 'bank holiday' level service is 'unacceptable', says shadow health sec

7 November 2022, 17:25 | Updated: 7 November 2022, 18:51

Nurses will strike in the lead up to Christmas
Nurses will strike in the lead up to Christmas. Picture: Alamy

By Emma Soteriou

Nurse strikes resulting in a 'bank holiday' levels of service across the NHS this winter are "unacceptable", Shadow Health Secretary Wes Streeting has said.

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Cancer and kidney disease treatments as well as routine treatments could be put on hold as thousands walk out amid the ongoing pay dispute.

The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) is set to publish the results of its ballot on strike action later this week, but it is already understood that a majority have voted in favour of the strike. 

Speaking on LBC's Tonight with Andrew Marr, Mr Streeting said: "I'm concerned, I think lots of people are concerned about the impact of disruption."

He added: "That's still a disruption to patients which I think is unacceptable.

"First and foremost, my responsibility, certainly if I was the Health Secretary, is to patients.

"That’s why I think the government have to get a grip on this and get the unions around the table because there is a deal there to be done.

"But we're not going to have chance of it if they're not even willing to talk.

"I think it is outrageous that not a single secretary of state since Sajid Javid has been prepared to sit down with unions even while ballots have been ongoing.

"That's not a responsible approach that's a reckless approach."

Read more: Nurses set to strike before Christmas after voting in favour of first ever mass NHS walkout

Read more: 'We can't keep throwing money at the problem': Nick Ferrari calls for NHS reform

Nurses are campaigning for a pay rise of 5 per cent above inflation
Nurses are campaigning for a pay rise of 5 per cent above inflation. Picture: Alamy

Senior health sources said the NHS will operate as if it is Christmas Day, with elective treatments being scrapped but emergency care continuing to go ahead.

The move is expected to worsen the NHS backlog which has already piled up to seven million people in England waiting for elective hospital treatment by August.

It comes ahead of the 'winter of discontent' which is already expected to see added pressure from fresh waves of Covid and flu.

It is the first time the RCN has balloted all of its 300,000 members for strike action in its 106-year history.

The union is campaigning for a pay rise of 5 per cent above inflation after recent analysis showed an experienced nurse's salary has fallen by 20 per cent in real terms since 2010

However, despite it balloting nurses at 300 NHS hospitals and trusts, not all of them may be hit by strike action.

Ballot results are expected to be published later this week
Ballot results are expected to be published later this week. Picture: Alamy

A health official told the Telegraph: "The understanding we have… is that they will commit to delivering a bank holiday level of service.

"On bank holidays we don't do elective work, but we do do emergency work.

"Outpatient surgery, day surgery, chemo, dialysis… some of the things we have for discharging, transferring care, of patients [which] wouldn't always happen on a bank holiday… it's those kinds of services [which will be disrupted]."

The source added: "You might well have Nottingham that is on strike, and Derby isn't. 

"Derby would be providing a normal service but Nottingham would only be providing bank holiday and anything extra that they might agree to do locally."

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