Rishi Sunak on Monday hit out at the minority of nurses who are forcing radical strike action which will put patients at risk. The Prime Minister said it was “disappointing” the Royal College of Nursing had chosen to become more hardline when only one in three members rejected a pay deal.
Support for the nurses has collapsed among Daily Express readers with more than eight in 10 opposed to more walkouts.
Mr Sunak said the 54 percent to 46 percent vote to reject the government’s offer was a “very narrow vote” and once the turnout was taken into account “it’s a minority of members”.
He also criticized the decision to lift protections for services such as cancer care and emergency departments “given the closeness of the vote”.
The PM added that it was “obviously disappointing and everyone will be concerned about the impact on patient care”.
Mr Sunak insisted the offer, which increased pay and included a one-off bonus, was “reasonable”.
He said: “Our door’s always open to have talks and there are other unions in the process of balloting.
“Hopefully, they can see the offer we put forward is a reasonable one that recognizes their hard work.
“And also recognizes that we have to do these things in a way that’s affordable for taxpayers, but also gets inflation down.”
As he gave a speech on learning maths until the age of 18 in London on Monday, Mr Sunak admitted it will be “more challenging” to cut NHS waiting lists while strikes continue but he is “hopeful”.
Nurses were among one million health workers offered a five percent rise this month and a one-off bonus of at least £1,655 to top up the last financial year’s salary settlement.
Downing Street ruled out improving the offer and said talks will not be reopened after the rejection of the proposed deal.
Unite warned its members are voting to reject the pay deal in a ballot that ends on April 28. And it is planning more strikes next month if the result does go against the offer.
General Secretary Sharon Graham said: “All along we have said this offer is nowhere near good enough for NHS workers.
“The new wave of strike action reflects the growing anger of members about the total inadequacy of the current government proposals. We knew the lump sum on offer and the 2023 percentage increase simply would not cut it with our members.
“If the new wave of strike action is to be avoided, the government needs to return to the negotiations and put more money on the table.”
The threat of more strikes comes as Shadow Health Secretary Wes Streeting accused Mr Sunak of being “completely absent” from dealing with the pay dispute.
Speaking on a visit to a care center in Chesterfield, he said: “The Prime Minister has got to step in. We can’t afford any more strikes.” An Express poll found 86 percent of 2,839 respondents believe nurses are wrong to continue industrial action.
Tory MPs insisted that staff are being “reckless” with demands that are “ludicrous”.
RCN members in England will walk out for 48 hours from 8pm on Sunday April 30 over the bank holiday. And junior doctors in England remain locked in a row with the government over wages.
Conservative MP Julian Lewis said he was “dismayed” emergency and intensive care was being included in the next round of industrial action.
He said medical unions “should not be endangering people’s lives”.
And fellow Tory James Daly said: “Reckless and irresponsible actions of two trade unions are putting the lives of my constituents and people throughout the country at risk.”
Steve Barclay, the Health Secretary, said patient safety “should come first for all parties”.
He added: “That is why I’d urge the Royal College of Nursing to wait for the staff council decision on that offer – votes are still ongoing and it’s premature to announce strike action ahead of that decision by the NHS Staff Council.”
Tory MP Paul Bristow said the British Medical Association should revise its “ludicrous demand for 35 percent” for junior doctors and get round the table.
Fellow Conservative Dr Caroline Johnson called on the Government to “expedite” legislation to introduce minimum service levels for certain sectors during strikes to avoid emergency care being affected. Meanwhile, an NHS employee has warned striking nurses are “losing public sympathy” and urged them to “look at the facts” over their pay demands and accept the “reasonable” offer on the table.
The unnamed 52-year-old, whose pay is at risk, has spoken out over the walkouts and fears being left with “nothing.” They have left a lucrative 30-year career in business and now earn less than a third of their previous income.
The worker told the Daily Express: “I do not think what the union is asking for is genuine. The offer on the table is very reasonable.”
The health worker, who tore up their union membership card after becoming fed up with “political lecturing”, said: “I found that in being a union member, I was contributing to a very political organization, which was constantly sending me unwanted blatantly political messages.
“Therefore I very much resent the fact that I am unable to be represented in the pay negotiations.
“I didn’t want lecturing or regime change. They are trying to hurt the Conservatives. It is not a legitimate strategy. You should not go on strike to try to force political change because it is people’s lives at stake.”