First Minister Mark Drakeford challenged over decision not to award a pay rise to Welsh nurses

  • First Minister Mark Drakeford explains why nurses in Wales cannot get a pay rise.

The First Minister has been challenged over his government's decision not to award a pay rise to Welsh nurses.

It comes following the historic strike where tens of thousands of nurses joined each other on the picket line across the country.

In a sit-down interview with ITV Cymru Wales' Sharp End, Mark Drakeford was asked to explain why there would not be a pay rise for the NHS workers in Wales.

"I absolutely understand why Public Service workers in Wales feel the frustration that they do and have decided to take the action that we see today. Their wages have been held down for a decade and more. And now the ravages of inflation bit into what they are asked to manage on.

"So it is no surprise to me that they feel obliged to act in the way that they do.

"What I say to them and what I hear them say, their trade union leaders say, is that their quarrel is not with the Welsh Labour Government, it is with a Conservative government in Westminster that fails to fund us in a way that would allow us to reward those people in a way that we would wish to do."

National Correspondent Rob Osborne challenged the First Minister by acknowledging his government was responsible for what Welsh nurses get paid.

Billy and Emma were just some of those on the picket line outside Wrexham Maelor Hospital.

In response, he argued that the current situation is a consequence of the UK Government's decisions: "The money that we get to fund the NHS, to pay the people who work in it and in other public services in Wales is directly decided by decisions that UK ministers make for England.

"The Barnet formula gives us a consequential sum of money from that. There's no other money that we have to pay pay bills, other than from the money that comes to us from London."

There are currently 22,899 registered nurses in Wales, alongside roughly 3,000 registered nurse vacancies - an unprecedented number according to the RCN.

On Tuesday (December 13), the Welsh Government unveiled its spending plans over the next two years, including an extra £165m for the NHS, but no additional pay for nurses.

Asked about the different options available to his government when it comes to finding other money to pay for a wage increase, Drakeford explained there was no acceptable alternative.

"We've looked at all of the choices that we have. We could raise taxes in Wales. People in Wales are being taxed at a level that is higher than at any time in the last 70 years. We could take money out of services, that is true as well. We could take money out of things that the health service does, the treatment it offers. I don't think that is a choice that will be right for Wales.

So yes, there are choice that we make and they're conscious choices and they lead us to the position that we're in today", Drakeford said.

The UK's Health Minister Maria Caulfield said she recognises pay is "an issue" for nurses, but insisted that the government gave them a 3% pay increase last year when no other public sector worker received one.

When pressed that the current offer is below inflation and does not take into account soaring living costs, Ms Caulfield, who has also worked as a nurse, said "realistically a 19% pay rise is not achievable", adding "at the moment we just don't have 10 billion pounds to give that 19% increase."

You can catch up on this week's ITV Cymru Wales' Sharp End programme and many more on our website.