Rishi Sunak urged to do a deal for Britain and end nursing strike

Nurses strike: RCN members at St Thomas' Hospital in London

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The Prime Minister was also warned that more strikes are being planned for “very early” next month unless nurses are given extra pay. Pat Cullen said the government needs to start “serious” negotiations tomorrow if there is any hope of the walkouts planned to start next Wednesday being called off.

The Royal College of Nursing general secretary said: “I’m asking the Prime Minister as the general secretary of the largest professional nursing trade union in the world, please, please get a grip on this.

“We are just one week away from the next strike and I believe, I am saying to him personally, patients will hold him to account for this.

“So I am saying to the Prime Minister now do a deal for Britain.”

The government is looking at backdating a pay deal for the new financial year to January 1 as a way to end the dispute.

A one-off lump sum has also been floated as a possible option.

But the RCN said neither had been formally offered by the government and negotiations must now be ramped up to put an end to next week’s strike action.

Ms Cullen said: “They would need to start formal negotiations with us and they would need to do it as a matter of urgency.

“The clock is furiously ticking at this stage.”

Ms Cullen said the RCN is not making a threat to the government but the NHS needs time to prepare if strike action is called off and warned it was also “unfair to patients to leave it to the last minute”.

“It needs to be more than just ‘my door is open’,” Ms Cullen added. “It needs to be serious and committed negotiations.”

An independent pay review body set the salary increase for nurses at about £1,400 more a year, at least a four percent rise.

The RCN has asked for inflation plus five percent, which would mean a settlement of around 19 percent.

But Ms Cullen suggested earlier this month that the organisation is willing to halve that if the government agrees to compromise.

She said: “I truly believe that we have not just extended an olive branch but the tree to the government and I was sincerely hoping that they would have taken us up on the offer of meeting us halfway.

“But I haven’t had any contact from the Prime Minister’s office at all.”

The nursing union chief added: “I can’t be any more explicit without getting into negotiations about meeting me halfway.

“That was a significant move for me as the general secretary.”

RCN officials on Tuesday began work on planning further strike dates to be staged “fairly quickly” if the dispute cannot be settled.

It has to give 14 days’ notice ahead of any walkout and will start putting in place measures tomorrow for strikes “very early next month”.

Ms Cullen said that last week the Prime Minister “placed himself at the centre” of sorting out the NHS winter crisis after he held talks with health leaders to find a way to resolve the problem of bed shortages in hospitals.

Ms Cullen said: “I believe it is only him that can resolve this dispute if he truly wishes to.

“I say to him please grasp the nettle.”

The Prime Minister ordered a number of ministers to hold talks with representatives of striking public sector works on Monday.

Steve Barclay described the discussions with health unions as “productive” during a visit to St Charles Hospital in west London on Tuesday.

The Health Secretary said the government wants to work “constructively” with the unions but must also consider what is affordable to the wider economy.

He said that the “key focus of the meeting was to look at next year’s pay review body and the evidence that we submit to that”.

“But of course, as part of that meeting, we also listened to the trade unions in terms of their concerns in respect of this year,” Mr Barclay said.

“That’s part of a wider discussion that is happening across Government where other departments, other secretaries of state, are meeting with their trade unions.”

Mr Barclay said he would take the message from trade unions back to Chancellor Jeremy Hunt.

The Health Secretary said the Government was “particularly focused on the pay review body which will start from April” rather than re-opening the current deal.

“That is the right approach and we’ve been consistent in that, but at the same time we’re engaging, we’re listening, we’re working with trade union colleagues because we recognise there’s very real pressure on the health system at the moment,” he said.

Mr Barclay also insisted there was “common ground” with the trade unions in some areas, including ensuring that highly-trained clinicians, particularly nurses, do not have to divert time to administration and “frustrating tasks” amid the crisis in the health service.

It comes as new legislation was introduced in the Commons to force striking unions to provide minimum levels of service during walkouts.

Grant Shapps told MPs ambulance strikes involving tens of thousands of staff in England and Wales underlined the need for the legislation.

The Business Secretary said that while the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) has agreed service coverage on a national level for its strikes, paramedics and ambulance drivers have not done so, meaning that “health officials were left guessing at the likely minimum coverage”, putting “lives at risk”.

”It’s like a battlefield”

Emergency departments have become like war zones as patients endure long delays due to staff shortages, a nurse says, writes Hanna Geissler, Daily Express Health Editor.

Rachael, who works in A&E at a London hospital, said heartbroken nurses were struggling to provide safe care in unsustainable conditions.

Staffing ratios are often “woefully inadequate” and years of decline have triggered an exodus of experienced staff.

She added: “It’s like a battlefield – it’s like field medicine rather than what you would expect in a modern, first-world hospital. At times it just feels like carnage.”

Rachael, 41, said her recent shifts had been “some of the most difficult I’ve ever worked in my life”.

No nurses enter the profession thinking the job will be easy but they do expect to have the support needed to work safely, she said.

Shortages mean they cannot keep pace with the number of people flooding into emergency departments and struggle to find beds for those needing admissions, leaving sick people facing long delays.

“It’s horrible to know that you are working flat-out but you can’t help patients in the way that you would want to,” Rachael said.

“It’s heartbreaking to see people sitting on chairs or on the floor, desperate for care and attention, and to know there are more in the ambulance bay waiting and they can’t physically even get into the hospital.

“The way that nurses are expected to work is unsustainable. At the end of the day, nurses are human, we’re not machines or robots.”

Rachael, who has worked as an emergency nurse for 12 years, said she felt extremely privileged to help patients during their highest and lowest moments.

However, the unreasonable demands being placed on staff mean they are not able to care for people the way they would want to or spend as much time with each patient.

She is not joining next week’s strikes as her hospital’s ballot did not meet the threshold for action.

But she supports those who will be on picket lines. Rachael added: “No nurse wants to leave their post to strike. Nurses have been very patient for an extremely long time and they have been ignored.

“If this is the only means to action so that we can have our voices truly heard, then this is it.”

Intensive care nurse Amanda Smith said staff shortages were forcing her colleagues to triple their workload, raising concerns about patient safety.

Each nurse would usually look after one very sick patient but they are now sometimes responsible for two or three, she explained.

The pressures mean both new and experienced nurses are leaving the NHS for better-paid jobs in other sectors or abroad.

Amanda, 49, said: “You can go on shift and half the nurses will be agency nurses, then another large proportion will be newly qualified international recruits.

“Before we had a tradition of a very stable workforce where you retained your experience. It makes all the difference when you’re trying to achieve good care.”

Amanda joined a picket line outside her hospital in Northern Ireland last month.

She earns £39,000 a year but said many junior staff were struggling to make ends meet. She added: “One was telling me she earns about £16 an hour. Her friend opened a cleaning business and offered her £20 an hour.

“People need to be able to pay their bills and have a decent standard of living. They shouldn’t be having to resort to food banks.”

Grant Shapps warns ambulance unions

Ambulance unions are putting lives at risk by refusing to introduce nationwide minimum levels of service during strikes, Grant Shapps has warned, writes Martyn Brown, Daily Express Deputy Political Editor.

With paramedics set to walkout again on Wednesday, he warned the country faces another day of “patchy” emergency care.

The blistering attack came as the business secretary announced a new bill forcing rail and NHS workers to maintain minimum service levels on strike days.

It comes as Britain suffers from a crippling winter of discontent, which has seen nurses and ambulance workers walk out of work leaving patients stranded.

The new bill could force some trade union members in the NHS, rail, education, fire and rescue, border security, and nuclear decommissioning, to show up to work even if they voted to strike. If they don’t then they face the sack.

The bill won’t affect strikes taking place tomorrow, as it will take time to pass through the Commons and could be challenged in the courts. But it could have a massive impact on future industrial action.

Introducing the bill in parliament Mr Shapps praised nurses for ensuring safe levels of cover were in place on a national level during pre-Christmas strikes.

But he told MPs: “A lack of timely co-operation from the ambulance unions meant employers could not reach agreement nationally for minimum safety levels during recent strikes and health officials were left guessing at the likely minimum coverage, making contingency planning almost impossible and putting everyone’s constituents lives at risk.

“The ambulance strike plans still do not have minimum safety levels in place and this will result in patchy emergency care for the British people.

“And this cannot continue.”

The GMB union, whose ambulance worker members are going on strike on Wednesday, said it was an “extraordinary attack”.

“He surely knows that across NHS trusts, GMB members who care for the public every single day, work closely with employers to provide appropriate cover on strike days and have left picket lines to help out on urgent calls,” a spokesman said.

“The public know who is to blame for the crisis in our NHS – this government. And, people will be disgusted that in a matter of months, they have gone from clapping health workers to legislating to sack them.”

Labour has said it would repeal the bill, with Deputy Leader Angela Rayner telling the Commons the proposal will lead to nurses being sacked and is an “outright attack on the fundamental freedom of British people”.

She accused the government of “playing politics with nurses’ and teachers’ lives because they can’t stomach the cooperation and negotiation that’s needed”.

Unions have said the bill is “an attack on the right to strike”. Earlier Mr Shapps told Sky News: “It works in places like France and Italy and Spain, Germany.

“Other places have minimum service or in some cases with the NHS safety type levels, which mean that if you call an ambulance, for example, you know that it will turn up if it’s a heart attack or stroke.”

But Conservative MP Stephen McPartland said it was “shameful, shameful, shameful to target individual workers and order them to walk past their mates on picket line or be sacked”.

New pay offer for rail workers

Ministers are considering offering rail workers a new 10 percent pay deal in a bid to bring an end to crippling strikes, writes Martyn Brown, Daily Express Deputy Political Editor.

Whitehall officials are understood to be looking into beefing up the existing 8 percent offer over two years to workers for 14 train companies.

Rail minister Huw Merriman is believed to have left open the possibility of an extra 2 percent being found during a meeting with RMT boss Mick Lynch.

The offer would be for 2022 and 2023, backdated to January last year.

As part of the deal government demands for driver-only operated trains as part of any agreement could also be softened.

Even if a deal is struck between the RMT and 14 train operators, facilitated by ministers, the union’s dispute with Network Rail will continue.

The RMT has already rejected a nine percent pay increase offer for 2022 and 2023.

However, more than a third of Network Rail workers voted for the deal when it was put to RMT members in a referendum last month.

The Government-owned agency, which manages signalling and track maintenance, says it would have been accepted if the union hadn’t advised members to reject it on false grounds.

Network Rail and RMT negotiators met on Tuesday in a bid to bring an end to the six-month dispute.

A dispute with Aslef, which represents train drivers, also needs to be resolved.

Last week the union was offered an 8 percent pay rise offer over two years, meaning a driver’s average salary would go from £60,000 to £65,000.

But it is expected to be rejected when the union’s executive committee meets next week.

Aslef boss Mick Whelan also met Mr Merriman on Tuesday.

Mr Whelan and Mr Lynch will be quizzed by MPs on Wednesday when they are scheduled to appear before the Commons transport committee.

Experts warn of high numbers of excess deaths

Chaos in A&E departments could be fuelling high numbers of excess deaths, experts have warned, writes Hanna Geissler, Daily Express Health Editor.

More than 650,000 deaths were registered in the UK last year – nine percent more than in 2019, according to analysis of official data by the BBC.

It was one of the worst years for excess deaths outside a pandemic in the last 50 years.

The excess – the number over what would be expected in an average year – is partly explained by Covid-19, with around 38,000 deaths linked to the virus in 2022.

Deaths from conditions such as heart problems are also feared to be higher than usual due to people putting off getting care during the pandemic.

However, the NHS crisis may also now be playing a role. The Royal College of Emergency Medicine has estimated that up to 500 people are dying each week as a result of A&E delays.

Prof Sir David Spiegelhalter, emeritus professor of statistics at the University of Cambridge, said: “Research has shown that delays in admission are linked to increased mortality rates, and it is plausible that this is leading to hundreds of the excess deaths.

“But this is not just a winter issue – there have been high excess non-Covid deaths since June, coinciding with disruption in ambulance response times and A&E waiting times.”

There have been around 40,000 excess deaths in England and Wales in the last six months, Prof Spiegelhalter said.

When adjusted to account for an ageing population, the excess falls to around 27,000 – a nine percent rise compared with the same period in 2019.

Prof Spiegelhalter said: “Around half of these involved Covid, but this still leaves an average of around 450 excess non-Covid deaths each week since June – now flu and cold weather have been added in, this is even higher.

“A third of the deaths involving Covid will not have it as the primary cause, and many will have caught it in hospital.”

He added: “The continuing pattern of excess deaths deserves close scrutiny.”

Hospital staff feel cost-of-living pinch

Hospitals have been forced to open food banks for their own staff amid fears they are struggling to feed themselves during the cost-of-living crisis, writes Adam Dutton.

Two hospitals in the West Midlands have taken the drastic measure as skint nurses queue for meals as they are increasingly unable to afford to eat.

Health bosses say the alarming move was made following concerns for the welfare of staff and fears some will end up taking time off sick as they struggle to cope.

Workers have since been flocking to snap up the free offers at Wolverhampton’s New Cross Hospital and Walsall Manor Hospital as the cost of living soars.

It comes amid the ongoing dispute with the government over nurses’ pay, with more strikes planned next week.

A recent survey also found thousands of NHS staff are already seeking help from food banks and over a half of hospitals are planning to offer similar support.

Free hot drinks and bread for toast or a cereal bar are being offered to all 16,000 staff across both trusts as well as a subsidised hot meal for £1.50 each.

The NHS trusts said they were alerted to the need to support colleagues from last July and August after being told some were struggling to afford to come to work.

Professor David Loughton CBE, Group Chief Executive of both Trusts, said: “We have a duty of care to support our staff and their wellbeing is our focus, so this gesture has been made to support them at a challenging time for so many people in our society.

“Sadly, there is a real need for this service, and, we’re keen to do everything we can to help our colleagues.

“By doing this we know our staff are there for our patients, and they will not be going without a small meal or access to essentials.

“We are pleased to be able to offer this but extremely concerned too; our organisations are at risk of increased staff absence due to stress and the potential of increased vacancies if colleagues cannot afford to work due to the cost of living crisis.”

The Staff Wellbeing Hub at Wolverhampton and the Manor Lounge at Walsall Hospital include a small food and essential items shop for all staff.

At New Cross, there has already been a ‘stream of regular customers’ at the hub for breakfast and the foodbank, while the same is expected at the Manor.

Elsewhere, Liverpool Women’s NHS Foundation Trust has teamed up with a food poverty charity to provide trollies of free food for staff.

Liverpool Women’s NHS Foundation Trust’s Chief People Officer and Deputy Chief executive, Michelle Turner, said: “We know with the pressures of the current financial climate, like many other people our staff may be finding things more difficult at the moment.

“We decided to set up a staff pantry to provide help to anyone who may need it – no questions asked.”

Ellie Orton OBE, chief executive of NHS Charities Together, said: “As the cost of living escalates, like many employers NHS Trusts and the charities who support them are looking at ways to help staff through the crisis.

“But with pressures facing NHS workers already so extreme, it’s heartbreaking that some are having to resort to using food banks to get by.

“Right now hardship funds and support are the main topics of interest for NHS charities.

“Queries from our members range from the setting up of benevolent funds and access to travel bursaries, to the possibility of providing hot meal vouchers and other basic support, including food banks.

“As a sector, we are proud to support the staff and patients of the NHS however we can, and sadly today that support is more important than ever.”

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