No one 'at any level' in government involved in NHS pay talks, says Unite

Unions have accused Rishi Sunak of refusing to negotiate ahead of the biggest strike in NHS history, ITV News Political Correspondent Kathryn Samson reports

A union leader has claimed the government is holding "no talks at any level whatsoever" on NHS pay on the eve of the health service's biggest strike yet.

Tens of thousands of nurses and ambulance staff in England are set to walk out tomorrow in an ongoing, with Rishi Sunak urged to step in to resolve the dispute.

Nurses are due to strike again on Tuesday while ambulance crews and call handlers return to the picket lines on Friday.

Physiotherapists will walk out on Thursday, making Wednesday the only day of the week with no NHS strikes.

When asked what's being done prevent this, Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said she can "categorically" say the union is in "no talks at any level whatsoever" with the government.

"That is a real abdication of responsibility," she told the BBC's Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg programme.

Unite union general secretary Sharon Graham Credit: Jacob King/PA

“Why is Rishi Sunak not coming to the table? Instead of doing sort of press conferences about other things, come to the table and negotiate – roll your sleeves up and negotiate on the pay in the NHS, that is what’s required."

She said both the prime minister and health secretary Steve Barclay have "danced around their handbag" but will "not talk about pay", despite it being at the heart of the dispute.

In a letter to Mr Sunak, Royal College of Nursing (RCN) general secretary Pat Cullen said a “meaningful” pay offer from the government could still avert strike action.

She drew a comparison with his swift action to sack Conservative Party chairman Nadhim Zahawi after he was found to have breached the ministerial code in relation to his tax affairs.

She wrote: “As shown by last weekend’s fast-paced changes in Cabinet, big decisions can be made by you at any point in the week in the interests of good government.

“I am urging you to use this weekend to reset your government in the eyes of the public and demonstrate it is on the side of the hardworking, decent taxpayer.

“There could be no simpler way to demonstrate this commitment than bringing the nurse strike to a swift close.”

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has been urged to 'roll his sleeves up' to resolve the crisis. Credit: Oli Scarff/PA

With negotiations also continuing in Scotland, Ms Cullen warned Mr Sunak that his government is becoming “increasingly isolated”.

On the walkouts in England on Monday, Ms Cullen added: “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.”

Mr Barclay said: “I have held constructive talks with the trade unions on pay and affordability and continue to urge them to call off the strikes.

“It is time for the trade unions to look forward and engage in a constructive dialogue about the Pay Review Body Process for the coming year.”

He added: “Despite contingency measures in place, strikes by ambulance and nursing unions this week will inevitably cause further delays for patients who already face longer waits due to the Covid backlogs.

“We prioritised £250 million of support last month for extra capacity in urgent and emergency care, but strikes this week will only increase the disruption faced by patients.

“The governor of the Bank of England warned if we try to beat inflation with high pay rises, it will only get worse and people would not be better off.

“It is crucial people continue to access the services they need – please attend your appointments unless told otherwise, use 999 in a life-threatening emergency and use NHS 111 online services, your GP and pharmacy for non-urgent health needs."

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