Shapps expresses concern for lives as NHS prepares for ‘biggest’ strike day
Business Secretary Grant Shapps has said he is concerned that the planned strike by ambulance staff on Monday will put lives at risk.
Thousands of nurses and ambulance staff in England are due to strike in what many predict will be the biggest strike day the NHS has ever seen.
Mr Shapps said the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) has “very responsibly” told the NHS about where they will be striking and therefore enabled emergency cover to be put in place, but claimed ambulance unions have not provided such information.
His comments came as he sought to justify controversial anti-strike legislation currently making its way through Parliament.
The Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Bill seeks to ensure there are minimum working standards during strike days across six sectors, including health and transport.
Mr Shapps, asked if the industrial action will put lives at risk, told Sky’s Sophy Ridge On Sunday programme: “I am concerned that it does, if you have a situation which has been happening so far where you don’t have co-operation between the back-up services – typically the Army – and the people who are striking.
“We have seen the situation where the Royal College of Nursing very responsibly before the strikes told the NHS ‘This is where we are going to be striking’ and they are able to put the emergency cover in place.
“Unfortunately we have been seeing a situation with the ambulance unions where they refuse to provide that information. That leaves the Army, who are driving the back-ups here, in a very difficult position – a postcode lottery when it comes to having a heart attack or a stroke when there is a strike on.
“We cannot have that situation. That is why I am introducing laws for minimum safety levels.”
Unison union head of health Sara Gorton, during strikes last month, said all the services involved had emergency cover which, “as a rule of thumb”, saw all life-threatening incidents – also known as category 1 calls – responded to.
Category 2 calls, which can include heart attacks and strokes, would be assessed and if there was “risk to life and limb” ambulance staff would leave picket lines to respond.
Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said neither Prime Minister Rishi Sunak nor Health Secretary Steve Barclay are prepared to discuss pay.
She told the BBC’s Sunday With Laura Kuenssberg programme that Mr Barclay “is not telling the truth” when he says there is dialogue going on.
Ms Graham added: “I can tell you categorically that there has been no conversations on pay whatsoever with Rishi Sunak or Steve Barclay about this dispute, in any way, shape or form.
“They’ve danced around their handbag, they danced around the edges but they will not talk about pay.
“To me, that is an abdication of responsibility (as) the dispute is about pay – so how can they say they are in talks?”
RCN director for England Patricia Marquis appealed to Mr Sunak to “come to the table” for pay talks in order to avert more strike action.
She told Times Radio: “Where there are genuine negotiations with a view to seeking a resolution, then we will call off the strikes – and that view has not changed.”
Shadow business secretary Jonathan Reynolds suggested Labour in power would not be able to offer double-digit pay rises to public sector workers.
Asked if his party would give nurses a 10% pay rise, Mr Reynolds told Sky News: “Realistically the top opening offer, we probably wouldn’t be able to meet that but we would negotiate.
“And fundamentally we have a much more compelling message about those workload problems because we’ve got that plan to abolish the non-dom rule for the super-rich and therefore use that revenue – over £3 billion – to vastly increase the numbers of doctors, nurses, midwives in the system.
“So that would be part of the negotiation.”
Mr Reynolds said he jokingly tells his children to behave as they “haven’t got time to go to A&E under a Tory Government”.
Asked if as a parent he worries about NHS strikes, he said: “I think any family does, anyone in the country does.
“But I’ve got to say I feel worried now at the state of the NHS every day.
“Sometimes we’ll joke to the kids ‘you’ve got to behave, we haven’t got time to go to A&E under a Tory Government’, that’s the kind of thing we’ll say in our house because we know the pressures it’s under.”