'It Is A Tragic Day': RCN Chief Pat Cullen 'Truly Sorry' As Nurses Stage First-Ever Walkout

The nursing boss has warned that strike action could continue in January unless the government gets around the table.
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Union chief Pat Cullen has said she is “truly sorry” for patients who suffer disruption as nurses stage their first-ever strike — but admitted the industrial action is set to continue into next year.

Tens of thousands of nurses are walking out of hospitals across England, Wales and Northern Ireland this morning in a dispute with the government over pay and working conditions.

Health minister Maria Caulfield said around 70,000 appointments, procedures and surgeries will be lost in England due to the strike. Thousands more will be affected in Northern Ireland and Wales.

A&E and urgent care will only be staffed using a Christmas Day-style rota.

The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) has said it will still staff chemotherapy, emergency cancer services, dialysis, critical care units, neonatal and paediatric intensive care.

The strikes are going ahead after the health secretary, Steve Barclay, refused to discuss the issue of pay — prompting Cullen to accuse him of “belligerence”.

Speaking ahead of the strike, Cullen said it was a “tragic day”.

She told the BBC’s Radio 4 Today programme: “It’s a tragic day for nursing, it’s tragic day for patients and it’s a tragic day for the NHS.

“And I would ask this government to take a long look at themselves for leaving the largest workforce in the NHS out in the cold.

“So today, there will be disruption —there is no doubt about that, and for that we are truly sorry.”

The RCN is asking for a pay rise of 5% above RPI inflation, which stood at 14.2% in September.

However, the government has said that is “unaffordable” and that it will stick to the recommendations of the independent pay review body, which advises on nurses’ pay.

It recommended that nurses should get a pay rise of 4.5%, or £1,400, with the lowest-paid workers such as porters and cleaners receiving a 9.3% increase.

But Cullen hit out at the independent pay review body, saying it was “set up by government, they’re paid by government, and they’re appointed by government”.

Asked whether she was “turning her back” on the process that the RCN had previously always followed, Cullen replied: “What has that independent pay review body done for nursing?

“This system, the independent pay review body, was set up at the time of Margaret Thatcher. It’s out of date and it needs to be reviewed.

“It does not work for our nurses — it may work for this government — but it certainly doesn’t work for the lowest paid workers in the health service, including our nurses.”

Presenter Nick Robinson interjected to point out that the lowest-paid had been offered a pay rise higher than ministers initially wanted.

Cullen said: “And they deserve every penny of that, but they actually deserve more. Because just like nurses, their pay over this last decade has been eroded by 20%.”

Defending the government’s decision not to award a higher pay rise, Caulfeld said: “This isn’t government money, it’s taxpayer’s money.”

And she cited Liz Truss’s disastrous mini-budget as proof that governments should not borrow beyond their means.

She told Sky News: “We could’ve ignored the pay review body’s recommendation and gone for a much lower pay rise – we could go higher, but we have got to find that money from somewhere. This isn’t government money, it’s taxpayers’ money.”

She said the money would have to come from reducing spending elsewhere, increasing taxation, or increasing borrowing.

“We know the impact of borrowing when governments can’t afford it, we saw that just a few weeks ago”, Caulfield said.

Last night Cullen warned that strikes could continue until January unless the government was willing to get around the table.

She told Sky News: “The ball is in their court quite frankly, there will be a second strike day on the 20 December.

“Unless we have talks and negotiate on behalf of my members — then I am afraid to say that’s a very strong possibility.

“We will be starting to look at when those dates will be. I am afraid they will continue into January.”


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