A nursing union chief has raised the prospect that strike action could go on for six months, as she appealed for the British Health Secretary Steve Barclay to hold last ditch talks to avert Tuesday’s walk out.
Patricia Marquis, Director of England for the Royal College of Nursing, said the union has a mandate for strikes to run to May next year although she insisted she “did not want it to last that long”.
The threat of protracted industrial action comes as nurses prepare for the second of two days of strike action before Christmas and ambulance staff prepare to walk out in a separate dispute over pay and conditions on Wednesday.
Speaking on Sunday evening, Mr Barclay called on trade unions to honour commitments to cover “life-threatening responses and emergency responses”. A Government source said that while his door remained open for talks, ministers will not budge on pay.
The RCN has demanded a pay rise of around 19 per cent but with 24 hours until the nurses walk out again, the source said there were no talks planned between Mr Barclay and the nurses or with Unison, which represents the majority of ambulance workers.
The Government’s emergency Cobra committee was set to meet on Monday to discuss contingency plans for the health strikes with hundreds of military personnel on standby to provide emergency support.
Ms Marquis told Times Radio that nurses wanted a “swift resolution” but that negotiations were entrenched because “we’ve got no one to talk to”.
On the threat of six months of action, Ms Marquis said: “That’s how long our mandate lasts. We do not want it to last that long. Not at all. What we want is a really swift resolution as quickly as possible to avoid nurses having to lose pay, to take strike action, to be on picket lines.
“The only reason we’re entrenched is because we’ve got no one to talk to about what the issue is. Sadly if there is no resolution, then our members have taken and voted to take strike action and the mandate for that lasts for six months.
“I really hope and I pray that that is not what happens. We do not want to see protracted strikes, nor do we want to see further disruption to the NHS and to the services that patients need.”
Unions and health services are under pressure to clarify what conditions they will cover during Wednesday’s walk out by ambulance workers.
While crews are expected to cover emergency Category One incidents during the strikes, which include life-threatening injuries, illnesses and cardiac arrests where the patient has stopped breathing and does not have a pulse, it is not clear whether they will cover all emergency Category Two conditions, which can include heart attacks, strokes, epilepsy and burns. (Standard)