RCN strike is “badge of shame” for Conservative government, Starmer says

Elliot Chappell

Keir Starmer has described the confirmation that nurses will go on strike for two days next month as a “badge of shame” for the Tory government and said it shows that they are “out of ideas” and should “get out of the way”.

In an interview this afternoon, after the Royal College of Nursing announced this morning that NHS staff across England, Wales and Northern Ireland would walk out on December 15th and 20th, the Labour leader said “the difference between what Labour would do and what this government is doing could not be starker”.

He did not say that the opposition party would back the pay demands made by the RCN, but insisted that Labour would “get around the table and resolve the issue”. Starmer accused ministers of “abdicating” responsibility by refusing to continue discussion with the RCN to “ensure that these strikes don’t go ahead”.

“Nurses don’t want to go on strike, and now it seems that the Health Secretary is not even prepared to get around the table to continue negotiations,” he said.

“If the government is that tired of governing then they should get out the way and allow a different government to come in and deal with the underlying questions – like the lack of staffing.”

Starmer told viewers this afternoon that his the Labour Party would use money raised by scrapping the ‘non-dom’ tax status to train up 15,000 new staff members and argued that “the cavalry’s coming under a Labour government”.

Asked whether he would support the pay demands made by the college on behalf of its members, Starmer said: “It is about pay but it is also about staffing because talk to anybody who works in the NHS, my wife works in the NHS, and they will tell you they are under so much strain when it comes to staffing.”

He added: “So far as pay is concerned, what we would do is get around the table and resolve the issue. You would never have a Labour Party Health Secretary say I’m not going to get round the table and continue discussions.

“And the proof is there. When Labour were in power, we didn’t have strikes of nurses and actually we had fair pay for nurses. So, the difference between what Labour would do and what this government is doing could not be starker.”

The RCN said it had confirmed the dates after the UK government turned down its offer of formal, detailed negotiations as an alternative. It is the first time in its 106-year history that the college will stage a national walk out.

Starmer urged ministers not to “sit this one out”, adding: “To say ‘we’re not prepared now to even get around the table to try and ensure that these strikes don’t go ahead’ is just further evidence that they’re out of ideas, they’re tired… if they don’t want to carry on governing, they should get out of the way.”

RCN general secretary Pat Cullen warned that “if you turn your back on nurses, you turn your back on patients” and said she does not recognise the figure put forward by the government, which has claimed that the pay requests by the college amount to a 19.2% pay increase that would cost the Treasury £10bn.

The RCN has said that despite a pay rise of about £1,400 awarded in the summer, experienced nurses were worse off by 20% in real terms due to successive below-inflation awards since 2010.

It added that in the last year, 25,000 nursing staff around the UK had left the Nursing and Midwifery Council register, with poor pay contributing to staff shortages across the country, which it warned were affecting patient safety.

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