Nurses in A&E and cancer wards can go on strike, head of one of Britain's biggest unions says in stark warning to Govt

14 February 2023, 10:24

Unison is prepared to send A&E and cancer ward nurses out on strike
Unison is prepared to send A&E and cancer ward nurses out on strike. Picture: Alamy/LBC

By Will Taylor

The head of one of Britain's biggest unions has refused to rule out nurses' in A&E and cancer wards going on strike.

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Christina McAnea, who is in charge of 1.3million-member Unison, told LBC's Nick Ferrari that she would be prepared to see them walk out in the vital treatment centres but that emergency cover would be provided.

Her comments represent an escalation in the nurses' pay dispute – and follow reports that the Royal College of Nursing is prepared to have staff in A&E, intensive care and cancer wards walk out for 48 hours.

The Government has been refusing to match union demands and instead drafted in help from the army to backfill during NHS walkouts.

Asked about the RCN's plans, Ms McAnea told Nick: "We also have nurses, we're the second biggest nursing union, we've had nurses on strike and other NHS workers.

"It would depend, I think, on the circumstances. But even with that, you would always provide emergency cover.

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"I think we're legally obliged to provide emergency cover. And I have to stay, most of our members would want to provide emergency cover."

Asked specifically about A&E and cancer wards, Ms McAnea said: "I would think it would, I can't imagine a time when people would just walk away from a cancer ward.

Nick Ferrari puts UNISON General Secretary Christina McAnea on spot

"If you look at midwives, who have taken strike action occasionally, certainly the ones I was involved with, they're never going to walk out and leave a woman in labour, it’s just not going to happen.

"And every single picket line I was on – I did a tour from Yorkshire up to Gateshead a couple of weeks ago.

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"And every single picket line, our members came off the picket lines to get into ambulances to go out and deal with emergencies, so that happens all the time."

Unison members including ambulance workers have been on strike recently. Unions have framed it as a vital walk-out that will still see priority calls answered but expose how much more funding the ambulance services need.

Watch Again: UNISON General Secretary Christina McAnea takes your calls

The Government has described pay demands across several sectors as unaffordable at a time of squeezed budgets and the troubling economic picture.

In the wide-ranging interview, Ms McAnea also said that Labour MPs did not need to join her members on the picket line and instead said the party – which Unison is affiliated with – needed to work on getting into power.

Sir Keir Starmer had been telling his shadow cabinet not to join workers on strike.

And she praised Unite for securing an 18% pay rise for bus workers at Abellio, but said that is easier to achieve with a private company that makes a profit – allowing the union to ask for some of that to be put into their employees' pay packets.

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