Striking nurses are putting patients at risk due to the lack of exemptions for emergency care, a minister says.
Hospitals are operating with low staff numbers in some regions after nurses walked out today.
The 28-hour strike by Royal College of Nursing members ends at midnight tomorrow and they have said that they will not provide emergency cover.
It was due to last until Tuesday but the plan was curtailed when it was ruled unlawful by a High Court judge.
Transport Secretary Mark Harper said: “It clearly does put patients at risk, which is why we urge unions not to go ahead and strike.”
READ MORE: Rail minister says RMT must scrap ‘appalling’ Eurovision train strike for Ukrainian guests
He had earlier urged the RCN to accept the pay offer for its members. He added: “I would urge them to think again and do what other unions in the health service have done, which is to accept what I think is a fair and reasonable pay offer, reflecting the value that we place on hardworking NHS staff. “
It came as Pat Cullen, general secretary of the RCN, said nurses have worked “tirelessly” with the NHS to ensure patient safety.
She said: “There are national exemptions in place for a range of services, for emergency departments, for intensive care units, for neonatal units, pediatric intensive care units, those really acute urgent services.
“We have put exemptions in place, we’ve worked tirelessly with NHS England.
“In fact, it was the Royal College of Nursing who contacted NHS England to ask for a process to be put in place so we made sure the strike was safe for patients.”
NHS England is urging the public to use the health service wisely. It said emergency and urgent care was the priority, with people asked to use pharmacies and 111 where possible.
The RCN said it will only accept derogations – where unions agree to provide staffing during industrial action – on request, meaning most nurses in those areas will strike for the first time.
The union said it expects NHS employers to review services and focus on delivering “life-preserving care” but said it would work with the NHS to deal with “extreme circumstances”.
Yet NHS England warned staffing levels for some areas of the country will be “exceptionally low”.
Mr Harper also lashed out at the RMT transport union for “cynically targeting the Eurovision song contest” by calling strikes on the same day.
RMT members are due to strike on May 13 after the union rejected the latest pay deal from train operators.
The RMT said the Rail Delivery Group, which represents the train operators, had “torpedoed” pay talks.
But Mr. Harper said a “fair and reasonable pay offer” had been made.
He urged the RMT to put the pay offer to its members. He added: “The reason [it is] so appalling is because that’s not our song contest. We’re hosting it for Ukraine.”
The RDG proposed a year’s pay rise of five percent dependent on the RMT agreeing to go into a “dispute resolution process” and accepting the principle of changes to working practices.