Speaking to journalists on Thursday, the health secretary defended the government’s refusal to sit down with health workers who will be walking out over pay and conditions again next week.
Abell said: “Now you’re offering some more money to hospitals and trusts to help them through the winter crisis to come.
“Basically, the money is welcome, but the real challenge the NHS is suffering from this year is industrial action. And I wonder if you could tell us the last time you met with the junior doctors or the consultants, for example, to stop that industrial action?”
The cabinet minister said he met the BMA (British Medical Association) union just last week, and their suggestions were discussed “by that ministerial level and at official level with them on a regular basis”.
He added that the government has “accepted the independent review body proposals in full” and has made an “extremely generous offer” to the strikes.
But Abell pushed: “When did you last sit in a room with a BMA representative to talk about the junior doctors strikes? When was the last time you sat there negotiating?”
Barclay admitted he last discussed junior doctors’ pay directly with negotiators on May 2, but the government is “open to having the discussions with the junior doctors and indeed the consultants”.
The two men then began talking over each other, as Barclay insisted the pay requests from the strikers was not “fair” for other public sector workers.
Abell said: “I understand that, but I guess the point is you can’t have a negotiation with someone if you’re not speaking to them.
“If you’ve not sat down since May 2, that’s more than four months ago, howow can you get to a point where this is going to end if you’re not actually talking to them?”
The health secretary just claimed that the NHS strikers are calling for a 35% increase, and suggested, again, that’s is a pay rise which would not be “fair” to other public sector workers.
He also just reiterated the government line that the priority is getting inflation down, so ministers have to “be balanced in our approach”.
The BMA has actually claimed it is not true that they’re asking for a 35% pay rise.
Speaking in March, the union said: “The ask of 35% pay restoration is our starting position, and we are willing to meet with the health secretary anywhere, anytime, to negotiate what this might look like.”
Consultants and junior doctors are preparing for their first joint strike next week, with more walkouts planned over October.
Figures already published show almost a million appointments and operations have been cancelled since strikes began last December.
NHS leaders have also warned that the number of appointments impacted by walk outs may be twice the estimates, because hospitals may have chosen not to schedule appointments on strike days in the first place.
Shadow health secretary Wes Streeting said: “When it comes to cancer, delays cost lives. From my own experience of kidney cancer, I know the importance of fast treatment.
“Ministers’ stubborn refusal to meet with NHS doctors is putting cancer patients at risk.”