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Keir Starmer Tells Rishi Sunak To Reopen Negotiations With Nursing Union At PMQs

Rishi Sunak said the government has offered the nursing union a “fair pay deal” (Alamy)

3 min read

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak was urged to reopen negotiations with the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) to prevent the nursing strikes taking place this week at the final session of Prime Minister's Questions this year.

RCN members will hold a 12-hour strike  for the first time ever on Thursday, arguing for pay to match inflation.

Labour leader Keir Starmer said the nurses’ strikes are a “badge of shame” for the government, and accused the Prime Minister of “playing games with people’s health” during PMQs on Wednesday.

“All the Prime Minister has to do is to open the door and discuss pay with them,” Starmer said.

“If he did that, the whole country would breathe a sigh of relief.”

Starmer reiterated his demand for the government to scrap the non-dom tax status to raise more money for the NHS and public services. 

However, Sunak said the government has offered the nursing union a “fair pay deal” and accused Starmer of “not being strong enough” to stand up to the unions. 

The Prime Minister blamed Covid for piling further pressure on the NHS and creating a backlog of patients waiting for care, and added that the government has backed nurses throughout the pandemic with a number of measures. 

"Last year when everyone else in the public sector had a public sector pay freeze, the nurses received a 3 per cent pay rise," he said.

"When the RCN asked for more in-work training, we gave every nurse and midwife a £1,000 training budget. And when they asked the nurses bursaries, we made sure that every nursing student received a £5,000 grant." 

This winter, the RCN have demanded an increase of at least 15 per cent compared with the £1,400 rise awarded earlier this year, but Health Secretary Stephen Barclay said these demands were "neither reasonable or affordable".

Earlier this week Barclay told The Sunday Telegraph: “Huge settlements like these would turbocharge inflation when we are endeavouring to keep it under control. It will have an adverse impact on people’s incomes in the long run.”

Pat Cullen, general secretary of the RCN, has claimed the government refused on multiple occasions to meet with unions after nurses voted to strike.

She told the BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg on Sunday that her "door is open" for negotiations and hinted that the RCN could soften its calls for a pay rise of five per cent above inflation.

With ambulance staff also set to walk out, people are already being urged to only call 999 for an ambulance if their life is at risk.

The head of cancer care for NHS England, Dame Cally Palmer, has called on the RCN to exempt cancer surgery clinics from walkouts, amid fears the nursing strikes could put lives at risk. 

However, the RCN has refused to staff such procedures, committing only to providing “emergency cancer services” or immediately life-saving operations.

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