Nurses’ strike: is the army being primed for the NHS front line?
Health secretary rules out talks on an improved NHS pay offer amid report of discussions with defence staff on using military personnel as a strike contingency
The army could be drafted in to fill nursing and other front-line roles in a bid to keep NHS services running as it prepares for a wave of industrial action, it is reported.
Health and defence leaders are said by The Times newspaper to be drawing up emergency plans as paramedics, junior doctors, and ambulance drivers consider joining nurses on picket lines in the coming months.
But business secretary Grant Shapps told Sky News this morning ministers do not have any such ‘immediate plans’.
Defence ministry ‘looking at how it can help NHS’
The Times reports no formal request for help has been made by the Department of Health and Social Care in England but the Ministry of Defence is said to be looking at ways the army could assist the NHS. The ministry has been invited to comment on the claim.
The armed forces were last called upon in this way at the start the COVID-19 pandemic, when military personnel delivered PPE to struggling healthcare staff, and set up mobile testing units.
The RCN announced its first strike dates last week, with nurses in England, Wales and Northern Ireland planning walkouts on 15 and 20 December.
Renewed call for pay talks
College general secretary Pat Cullen reiterated her call for pay talks in an exchange of letters with England’s health and social care secretary Steve Barclay at the weekend. She insisted the position of RCN members remains ‘negotiations or nothing’.
Mr Barclay urged the RCN to ‘come back to the table’, but ruled out any new talks on pay because the government had accepted the NHS Pay Review Body’s 4% recommendation. Instead, he wants negotiations on holiday and pensions, rostering and free hot drinks.
‘This pay award must be viewed in light of the wider package of employee benefits and annual leave,’ Mr Barclay said.
‘Nurses don’t want tea and sympathy’
An RCN spokesperson said: ‘When the government would rather send for the military than negotiate with nurses, their priorities are seriously amiss.’
They dismissed talk of hot drinks for nurses as ‘a patronising case of tea and sympathy’.
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said it was working with the NHS on ways to manage disruption to services but did not confirm whether calling in the army was among the options.
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