Consultants and junior doctors will walk out together this week in a major escalation of the pay dispute.
In response the government has announced that doctors will come under its “minimum service levels” legislation, meaning that they will be banned from striking so there is enough cover for patients needing urgent treatment.
On Radio 4′s Today programme this morning, Robinson told Barclay that the move “risks worsening already bad industrial relations” between ministers and medics.
The health secretary insisted the new law was “necessary” in the interests of patients, and said the doctors’ union the British Medical Association (BMA) would face fines if its members still went on strike in defiance of the rules.
Robinson said: “You didn’t plan to do this just a matter of weeks ago. You didn’t think it was a reasonable thing to do then and you’re doing it now.
“So presumably you’ve changed your mind about the BMA. Have you decided this is a battle to the political death, that one side or the other is going to win and you’re determined to fight them?”
Barclay replied: “It recognises the fact that there has been an escalation from the BMA.”
But Robinson told him: “It’s recognition of the fact, Mr Barclay, that you have no answer to the strike 181 days since you had talks.”
A clearly-irritated Barclay said: “If you’ll let me finish the question. You started this by talking about some of the other industrial action that we’ve faced.
“You’re absolutely right that for example with the Royal College of Nursing we did agree local exemptions, things like cancer care were covered, and we took a proportionate approach.”
Robinson responded: “Is that why you’re not talking to [the BMA]? Because usually when there’s a dispute which is causing such hardship to so many people - waiting lists that you promised would come down are now going up - you’d think you might sit round the table and talk about it.
“People listening want to know how you’re going to bring this to an end. If you’re not talking to them, if you are increasing the temperature in this dispute by choosing the day it begins to say we will bar certain people from going on strike, what are you waiting for? How will this end?”
Barclay insisted that “my door is always open” to talks with the unions - but insisted the government was not willing to improve its pay offer.
“The government has always been clear in terms of the pay position for this year, that has been set by the pay review body process.,” he said. “We have accepted that in full.”