Fresh strike by NHS workers across England next month

Ambulance and other health staff including nurses and blood collection workers are to stage a fresh strike in an escalation of industrial action in the long-running dispute over pay.

Unison announced that its members will walk out across England on March 8, accusing the government of failing to hold “proper talks” with health unions to try to resolve the row.

The announcement came as Health Secretary Steve Barclay prepared to meet the Royal College of Nursing following a surprise joint statement yesterday announcing fresh talks.

The RCN has called off a planned 48-hour strike next week, but other health unions accused the government of “divide and rule” tactics by only agreeing to talk with the college.

Unison said healthcare assistants, cleaners, porters and ambulance staff will be involved in the March 8 strike.

Health workers at NHS Blood and Transplant, Great Ormond Street Hospital, the Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust, Liverpool Women’s Hospital and the Bridgewater Community Trust will be among those now walking out for the first time.

They will be joined by ambulance staff at four services in England – South Central, East of England, West Midlands and East Midlands, also now able to take action following a strike vote last week.

This means staff will be on picket lines in all but one ambulance service in England.

Unison members working for ambulance services in London, Yorkshire, the North East, North West and South West – who have already taken action on four previous occasions – will also walk out on 8 March.

Unison general secretary Christina McAnea said: “Unfortunately for patients, staff and anyone that cares about the NHS, the strikes go on.

“There can be no pick-and-mix solution. NHS workers in five unions are involved in strike action over pay, staffing and patient care.

“Choosing to speak to one union and not others won’t stop the strikes and could make a bad situation much worse.

Industrial strike
Ambulance workers on the picket line outside London Ambulance Service in Waterloo, south London, during a strike by members of the Unison union (Kirsty O’Connor/PA)

“The entire NHS team is absolutely determined to stand firm for better patient care. They’ll be furious at the government’s failure to invite their union in for talks, not least because a deal just for nurses cannot possibly work, and nurses belong to other unions too.

“Next month staff in all but one of the ambulance services in England will walk out. They’ll be joined by thousands more NHS colleagues, many striking for the first time.

“The action by NHS Blood and Transplant Staff will hit blood collection across the country too.

“By holding solo talks, the prime minister is condemning patients to many more months of disruption.

“Health workers will want assurances from ministers that they have no intention of ripping up pay agreements in the NHS. Any attempt to do so would be an incredibly serious move.

“The government now has several billion pounds more than it thought it had in its coffers. Now he has the cash, Rishi Sunak must speak to everyone involved if the dispute is to end.

“Governments elsewhere in the UK know how pay deals can be done. Rishi Sunak must copy their example, hold proper pay talks and allow everyone to get back to work.”

It comes after doctors from the British Medical Association (BMA) called on Mr Barclay to hold talks with them in the next 24 hours.

On Monday, the union announced that its junior doctor members had voted overwhelmingly in favour of taking industrial action.

Dr Rob Laurenson and Dr Vivek Trivedi, co-chairs of the BMA’s junior doctors’ committee, said in a statement: “We have held discussions with the Health Secretary’s officials today.

“We are very disappointed that Steve Barclay decided not to attend. There was no offer on the table and the Department made it clear they are not ready to enter negotiations but we left the Department of Health civil servants in no doubt that it is still not too late to avert a strike by tens of thousands of junior doctors in England.

“We have now written to the Health Secretary Steve Barclay asking to meet with him within the next 24 hours; frankly, he has dragged his heels for far too long.”

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “The Health and Social Care Secretary has met with the BMA to discuss pay, conditions and workload and, as the union acknowledges, he is looking to arrange another meeting with them as soon as possible.”

Meanwhile, the wave of strikes which has swept the country since last year is set to continue, after Aslef announced that drivers on London Underground will walk out on Budget Day – March 15 – in a row over pensions and working arrangements.

The National Education Union (NEU) has said it could pause strike action planned for next week if “real progress” can be made in negotiations.

It comes after Education Secretary Gillian Keegan wrote to teaching unions inviting them to “formal talks on pay, conditions and reform” on the condition that next week’s strike action in England and Wales is cancelled.

On Wednesday, the NEU said it is “prepared to recommend a pause to strikes next week” to its national executive committee on Saturday in a “sign of goodwill”, but only if “substantive progress” can be made in talks.

But Downing Street suggested there would be “no talks” with teaching unions about pay if the NEU continues to refuse to call off the strikes.