NHS leaders urge Government to find urgent strike solution

Nurses' strikes: Jenny McGee explains importance of action

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Saffron Cordery, interim chief executive of NHS Providers, urged the Government and unions to reach an 11th-hour pay deal to avoid a major impact on patients.

Ministers held an emergency Cobra committee meeting yesterday to consider how to cope with industrial action affecting the NHS, the rail network and other services.

Up to 10,000 nurses are due to walk out today, with 10,000 ambulance staff striking tomorrow and on December 28.

Downing Street said the armed forces would step in to minimise disruption, with 750 military staff using civilian ambulances.

Rishi Sunak insisted that the Government was “happy to sit down and talk” with unions – but ministers refused to discuss wages.

Ms Cordery told the BBC that heads of trusts: “Understand why staff are choosing to strike, so I think they would urge the Government and the unions to get round the table and discuss pay.

“Trust leaders across both hospitals and ambulance services will be doing everything that they can to put in place services that keep patients and the public as safe as possible… 999 calls that affect life and limb, those real emergencies will be answered.

“This is going to be an incredibly challenging and disrupted week, not only because we have the ambulance service coming out on strike across nearly every region but also because we’ve got these sequential strikes.”

The Daily Express understands the three main unions for ambulance staff – Unison, Unite and the GMB – will meet Health Secretary Steve Barclay today to discuss what services will be provided.

All Category 1 calls – the most life-threatening events, such as cardiac arrest – will be answered.

Some trusts have agreed exemptions with unions for specific incidents in Category 2 (serious conditions, such as stroke or chest pain).

Asked if people should make their own way to hospital, Ms Cordery said: “If someone has a life and limb emergency, they should call 999. If it’s not that kind of emergency, they will be told to seek different advice.

“If they think they’ve got the kind of emergency where they would usually call 111, then they should do that or they should consult a GP or pharmacist.

“There may well be alternative advice available to them that wouldn’t ordinarily be the case.

“So perhaps they will be advised to get themselves to hospital, but they should wait to seek that medical advice.”

Unison’s general secretary Christina McAnea said ambulance staff are taking industrial action tomorrow because ministers refuse to negotiate with them on pay.

So far the Government has stood firm on wage increases, saying that the above-inflation rises demanded by trade unions are unaffordable.

Ms McAnea told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “None of our members want to be on strike. This isn’t something they have chosen to do lightly. The Government has been completely intransigent here.

“We have been calling on them for weeks and weeks to sit down and have a proper discussion about how we try and resolve this dispute, and they adamantly refuse to do that. They will not talk to us about the elephant in the room that is pay.”

Data collected by the NHS after last week’s nursing strike showed that 16,000 appointments, procedures and surgeries were cancelled, and needed to be rescheduled, in England – 54,000 fewer than the Government had suggested.

Across England, 9,999 staff were absent from work due to the strike.

The figures were published after health minister Maria Caulfield claimed around 70,000 appointments in England would be lost.

The findings came as ministers on the Government’s civil contingencies committee met yesterday.

As well as the NHS disputes, Border Force staff are preparing to walk out for eight days from December 23 until New Year’s Eve.

Rail workers are also preparing to strike again, following several days of industrial action, on Christmas Eve.

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