Government urged to reach a deal with health unions

Plea to only call 999 with emergencies during ambulance strike

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The NHS Confederation, which represents trusts, warned industrial action is coming against a “perfect storm” of winter illness pressures and huge staff shortages.

Nurses will stage a two day walkout next week, followed by ambulance workers the week after and physiotherapists in February.

Doctors are now voting on whether they will stage their own strike action in a row over pay.

Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, said: “For NHS leaders there is a real fear that the risk to patients will only intensify with future strikes, including for nurses and physiotherapists planned in the coming weeks, and no sign of resolution on the horizon.

“In what is by far the toughest winter in the NHS for a decade, and set against the perfect storm of rising levels of winter illnesses including Covid and flu and huge staff vacancies, the Government must not turn a blind eye on the situation.

“It must reach an agreement with trade unions as soon as possible.”

Interim chief executive of NHS Providers Saffron Cordery said the fallout from industrial action “diverts attention away from the things the NHS is absolutely keen to focus on”, such as cutting waiting times and getting community services back on track.

“We really hope they (unions and Government) can have a constructive conversation and avert some industrial action,” she said.

“It would be great if the Secretary of State would come to the table and talk about pay because hopefully then that would set the pattern for… paramedics, for ambulance staff, for nurses.”

About 45,000 members of the British Medical Association were balloted on Monday over the prospect of strike action, with the result due at the end of February. 

The BMA has told the Government that if there is a yes vote, junior doctors will begin their action with a 72-hour “full walkout” in March.

Junior doctor members of the HCSA are currently voting in a strike ballot which closes on January 20, which could result in walkouts in February.

NHS leaders are assessing the impact of Wednesday’s ambulance strikes where up to 25,000 ambulance workers with the GMB and Unison unions staged walkouts.

Dr Adrian Boyle, president of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine, has warned that strike action can lead to “pent-up demand” in the days after walkouts.

Steve Barclay was warned by doctors’ unions yesterday (THURS) that he must address the “workforce crisis” at a meeting in London.

Representatives from the BMA, HCSA, and the British Dental Association (BDA) were involved in the discussion, which was described by both sides as a “constructive” meeting.

The Health Secretary was given a “very clear message” that it would not be enough to focus on next year’s pay settlement without a shift on current wages, medical leaders said.

Unions say pay has dropped by more than a quarter in real terms in the past decade and that the system around wages “is broken”.

Professor Philip Banfield, from the BMA, said the meeting had gone “as we expected” with no details discussed around pay.

He said:  “We went into the meeting to discuss the pay review body and we came out of the meeting having laid out our stall and making it very clear the state of the NHS and that, really, the pay dispute with the junior doctors has to include some form of addressing full pay restoration.”

Prof Banfield said the “workforce crisis” in the NHS has been made worse by a drop in pay for junior doctors, adding: “Unless he (Mr Barclay) stops the haemorrhage of staff from the NHS, the NHS is in real trouble.”

He added; “We’ve got about six weeks, haven’t we, to sit down and try and resolve the situation. None of our doctors want to strike, they would prefer that this was resolved before we got into that situation.”

Dr Paul Donaldson, general secretary of the HCSA, described the tone of the meeting as “polite” and “civil”.

He added: “There was no commitment to any extra money. Any money seems to be thought to be found from what they call efficiency savings, which of course is always a concerning question.”

The HCSA said pay has “dropped in real terms by more than 26 per cent in a decade and only a plan to reverse that decline will move us towards a settlement”.

Dr Donaldson said the “dire need for reform of the pay review system, action on pay and the pensions taxes hitting our consultants and specialists” had been stressed to Mr Barclay.

The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said Mr Barclay recognised during the talks the “significant pressures that staff are working under” in the NHS and that he “appreciates competing workforce and cost-of-living pressures, which he is keen to discuss in the context of the evidence for the pay review body”.

Mr Barclay “welcomed the constructive discussion and shared interest in making the health service better, with opportunities identified to look at reform measures to improve outcomes for patients and help staff, for example, improving IT and freeing up clinicians’ time to focus on patients, not admin”, DHSC added.

The Health Secretary hoped to “continue talking” and would “take away the points raised as part of discussions happening across government”, the department said.

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