The UK’s heath minister has said that the government had no realistic way of meeting nurses’ pay demands as the first day of historic strikes gets under way.
Maria Caulfield expressed “huge regret” over the walkouts, the latest in a wave of industrial action sweeping the UK and the first time the Royal College of Nursing has gone on strike.
The RCN’s action comes after ministers refused to negotiate on its demand for a 19 per cent pay increase.
Caulfield told Sky News that the government would stick with the recommendation of an independent pay review body. If the government agreed to meet the wage demands, it would have to find the money either by increasing borrowing and taxes, or cutting services.
“A demand of 19 per cent is not something we can realistically deliver on,” she added.
Pat Cullen, general secretary and chief executive of the RCN, said it was a “tragic day” for nurses, patients and the NHS, and blamed the government for its refusal to negotiate. She contrasted the attitude of UK ministers with their counterparts in Scotland, where a strike was averted after first minister Nicola Sturgeon met union leaders.
“There will be disruption, no doubt,” she said on the BBC’s Today programme. “We are sorry about that.” Nurses had made arrangements with NHS leaders to ensure that critical care, such as urgent cancer treatment, went ahead, Cullen said.