'Not one brown penny': Talks to avert nurses’ strike fail

'For a brief moment tonight it looked as if compromise was in the air, but there was no new pay offer and no deal,' ITV News Political Correspondent Libby Wiener reports

Talks to avert the nursing strike have failed after the union leader behind the action accused Health Secretary Steve Barclay of “belligerence” and refusing to discuss pay.

Royal College of Nursing (RCN) general secretary Pat Cullen said nurses were “not getting an extra penny” despite her attending talks on Monday, three days before their first strike date.

Meanwhile, Cabinet minister Oliver Dowden warned the government “cannot eliminate” the risks of a wave of strike action this month after chairing an emergency Cobra meeting.

He said ministers will be “straining every sinew” to minimise the disruption, with paramedics, train staff and border officials among those scheduled to walk out.

The UK-wide strike in the RCN’s history looks set to begin on Thursday – with a second date set for Tuesday – despite the talks between Mr Barclay and Ms Cullen.

Ms Cullen told ITV News she did the majority of the talking and was "extremely disappointed at the belligerence that was shown to our nursing staff."

'Not one brown penny additional for our nursing staff'

"The Health Secretary stayed true to his word today, and he refused to address pay with me, pay wasn’t on the table for discussion," Ms Cullen told ITV News.

"I needed to go in there and come out with something to be able to avert the strikes that are going to happen this week, and there is not one brown penny additional for our nursing staff.

"And he made that very clear."

The union is demanding a pay rise of 5% above the RPI rate of inflation, which was 14.2% in October, but Ms Cullen has hinted that she could compromise if the government negotiates on pay.

Mr Barclay has been sticking with the independent pay review body’s recommendation of a £1,400 raise.

He was under increasing pressure to settle a deal after strikes by ambulance staff and some NHS workers in Scotland were called off after members of two unions voted to accept the Scottish government’s recent pay deal.

(PA Graphics) Credit: PA Graphics

Unite and Unison members called off action after negotiations with Health Secretary Humza Yousaf and the intervention of First Minister Nicola Sturgeon.

The new deal would mean NHS workers in Scotland would remain the best-paid in the UK and workers would get pay rises ranging from £2,205 to £2,751.

For the lowest paid it would be a rise of 11.3%, with an average rise of 7.5%.

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesman said Mr Barclay “again listened to the RCN’s position on pay and reiterated the government has agreed to the recommendations of the independent pay review body”.

“He said that any further pay increase would mean taking money away from frontline services and reducing the 7.2 million elective backlog,” the official added.

“Mr Barclay said he would continue to engage with the RCN as we move into the pay review process for next year and on non-pay related issues.”

'If we don't take action the situation is only going to get worse': A nurse spoke to ITV News last month explaining why she felt she had no choice

Meanwhile, Mr Dowden, Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, chaired the meeting of the government’s emergency response committee, with military figures in attendance.

He reiterated pleas for workers to call off action to “give families a break” but admitted contingency plans to use troops to help fill the gaps will not be enough to “remove all risks”.

“Of course, this government will be straining every sinew to make sure that we minimise those risks, but we cannot eliminate them,” he told broadcasters.

“The fair and reasonable thing for the unions to do particularly in a time when winter is biting, we’re suffering from the consequences of Ukraine and indeed the Covid situation, to call off those strikes, give families a break, particularly over winter time.”

Mr Dowden added: “My message to them, even now, is please call them off.”

Meanwhile, health minister Will Quince admitted that taxis could be used to transport patients during ambulance strikes on December 21 and 28.

Wes Streeting described the conduct of the Tories as ‘disgusting’ Credit: Peter Byrne/PA

He told MPs it is “likely” that category one and two calls “where there is an immediate threat to life will be responded to.”

Bur he added: “We are looking at ways in which we can provide additional support for category three and category four, including things such as block-booking taxis and support through community healthcare, local authority fall services and community support.”

A wave of strikes by nurses, paramedics, rail workers and Border Force staff this month is expected to cause mass disruption, with thousands of NHS operations and appointments cancelled.

The military and civil servants are likely to be brought in to cover Border Force staff while armed forces will also be deployed to hospital trusts ahead of the ambulance worker strike.

Labour’s shadow health secretary, Wes Streeting, accused Mr Barclay of “spoiling for a fight.”

He said: “They want to blame nurses, blame paramedics, blame NHS staff for challenges in the National Health Service which are the direct fault and responsibility of 12 years of Conservative mismanagement – frankly, I think it’s disgusting.”

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