Steve Barclay Skewered By BBC Presenter Over Refusal To Negotiate With NHS Unions

Jon Kay also pointed out some of the health secretary's numbers were "questioned".
Steve Barclay was skewered over his response to NHS strikers
Steve Barclay was skewered over his response to NHS strikers
BBC Breakfast

Steve Barclay was skewered over his refusal to speak to NHS strikers about their pay demands in an awkward BBC Breakfast interview.

The health secretary was speaking to the media a day after the government rejected nursing leaders’ offer to suspend Thursday’s strikes in exchange for pay talks with Barclay.

The Royal College of Nursing has been calling for a pay rise of 5% above inflation (currently at 11.1%), but is willing to call off the industrial action if the government agrees to fresh talks.

BBC presenter Jon Kay pointed out on Monday morning that Barclay could avert the strikes by meeting with union bosses.

“The nurses say they would be prepared to pause their strike this week and there will be people watching this morning who have got appointments cancelled, operations cancelled, who are desperate for that strike not to happen.

“They say they will pause it if you sit down in a room and talk money.”

“As I say, I’m very happy to talk to them,” Barclay responded.

“But not about pay!” Kay cut in.

The cabinet minister just said, “well, we have an independent process,” referring to the pay body which recommends a public sector pay rise.

Barclay also claimed that the government put an extra £6.6 billion into the NHS in the autumn statement over the next two years, to help clear the Covid backlog.

He added they put extra money into social care, “we are focusing on clearing those backlogs”.

But Kay pointed out again that the strikes in Scotland have been paused because first minister Nicola Sturgeon sat down with the unions.

“You could do the same,” the BBC presenter added.

Barclay replied: “You just started the interview by saying about people waiting for operations. I don’t want to be taking money away from clearing the backlog – which is what we would have to do – taking money away from people waiting for operations, and fund additional pay.

“And if everyone in the public sector were to get an increase in line with inflation, that would be costing £28 billion at a time when the government has to get inflation under control because that is the biggest factor in terms of people’s cost of living.”

It’s worth noting that the idea of increasing public sector salaries and therefore worsening inflation is not a concept everyone agrees with – as long as the pay boost comes from those profiting at the top.

Barclay also claimed: “Those in the private sector will not be getting 19%, which is what the trade unions have demanded, so it’s right in terms of your other viewers that we’re fair to them.”

Kay pointed out: “Some of your numbers are questioned, of course.

“That £28 billion is questioned, the 40 hospitals you’re talking have also not materialised, have they?”

He added: “You say it’s up to the pay review bodies to sort this but NHS England say it isn’t up to them to sort it out to come to an agreement, it’s up to you, the government, to sort this out – sooner rather than later, to stop this strike.”

Barclay just hit back to say that the plan is under way to build new hospitals.

“Of course they take time to build hospitals,” adding that the “government is funding new hospitals”.

He also said nurses have previously told him working conditions need to be improved, which is why they are building new facilities.

“The essential thing is that we work together, with our nurses, who we hugely value, to address the pandemic backlog.”

Foreign secretary James Cleverly also claimed on Sunday that Barclay would be happy to discuss working conditions with unions, but not wages because he wanted to keep “politics” separate from health service.

This decision from the Conservatives was heavily criticised by shadow health secretary Wes Streeting for being “irresponsible”, claiming the offer to call off the walkout was “too good to refuse”.

Barclay has admitted that if the strikes go ahead, the “risks to patients will be significant”.

Another nurses’ strike is expected on December 20.


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