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Nurses' Union Leader Urges Government to 'Do the Decent Thing' as Strike Action Continues

The head of the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) has urged the Prime Minister to do the "decent thing" as thousands of nurses stage their second walkout over pay.

Speaking on the picket line at the Royal Victoria Infirmary in Newcastle, RCN general secretary, Pat Cullen, said the strikes can be brought to an end if the Government moves on its current offer.

The RCN has warned that strikes could go on for 6 months unless an agreement can be reached.

The Government has said the pay rise demanded by the union is unaffordable.

Ms Cullen told the PA news agency: "I want to say to the Prime Minister this morning, please step in now and do the decent thing on behalf of every patient and member of the public of this country.

"But please do the decent thing also for nursing staff – get round the table and start to talk to me on their behalf.

"That's the only respectful and decent thing to do, and let's bring these strikes to a conclusion."

Health Secretary Declines Pay Discussion

The RCN has been calling for a pay rise of 5% above inflation, though it has indicated it would accept a lower offer.

When it submitted the 5% figure to the independent pay review body in March, inflation was running at 7.5%.

But inflation has since soared, with RPI standing at 14.2% in September.

The Government has implemented the recommendations of the independent pay review body, which gave nurses a rise of about 4.75%, with a guaranteed minimum of £1,400.

Health Secretary, Steve Barclay, has declined to discuss pay when meeting union officials but said his door was open to discuss other areas of nursing.

Ms Cullen said public support for nurses was "immense" and it was up to the Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, to end the industrial action.

She told PA: "No nurse wants to do this. And certainly no patient deserves it. But this is completely now on his desk to actually bring a resolution to this."

Asked if members would accept a one-off winter payment, Ms Cullen said nurses did not want "quick fixes" but they required an in-depth review of the value of their work.

She added: "That's for us to discuss in a room, not on the airwaves."

She ruled out co-ordinating any future strikes with other unions but said nurses will take wider industrial action next month if the dispute is not resolved.

She said: "If this Government keeps giving our nursing staff the cold shoulder as they have to date, then it's really unfortunate, that come January, we will see more hospitals being involved and striking and that means more nursing staff involved."

Thousands of Operations Cancelled

During Tuesday's strike, the NHS will be running a bank holiday-style service in many areas as thousands of operations and procedures are cancelled and rescheduled.

The RCN has said it will still staff chemotherapy, emergency cancer services, dialysis, critical care units, neonatal and paediatric intensive care, as well as some other services.

Some 16,000 appointments in England were cancelled and had to be rescheduled due to last Thursday's first nurse strike. The Government had put the figure at 70,000.

Speaking ahead of the strike, Mr Barclay said: "The RCN's demands are unaffordable during these challenging times and would take money away from frontline services while they are still recovering from the impact of the pandemic.

"I'm open to engaging with the unions on how to make the NHS a better place to work."

Meanwhile, Mr Sunak said on Monday the Government had adopted a "fair and responsible approach to pay".

He stressed the need to "combat inflation" which is "making everybody in the UK's life difficult", adding: "Part of us doing that is having a responsible and fair approach to pay."

Ambulance Strike Tomorrow

It comes as fears grow over the impact of an ambulance strike on Wednesday, when thousands of paramedics, technicians, control room workers and other staff walk out.

Negotiations between unions and ambulance services in England and Wales are continuing in some regions over which incidents should be exempt from strike action.

All category 1 calls (the most life-threatening such as cardiac arrest) will be responded to.

Some ambulance trusts have also agreed exemptions with unions for specific incidents within category 2. This category is emergency serious conditions, such as heart attack, stroke, sepsis or chest pain.

However, it is currently unclear to what extent these conditions will be covered.

Those who suffer trips, falls or other non-life-threatening injuries are unlikely to receive treatment, with some NHS trusts urging people to get themselves to hospital or take a taxi.

Health minister, Will Quince, said anyone with chest pains on Wednesday should call 999.

He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "If you have chest pains, then phone 999. If it is not life-threatening, then it's really important that people call NHS 111 or NHS 111 online."

Asked if having chest pains is an emergency and that a patient could get an ambulance, Mr Quince said: "If you have chest pains, call 999 and the expectation is, and I've been really clear with you, I don't think that there is any paramedic, ambulance technician, anyone working in our NHS, whether they're on a picket line or not, that would not respond to a 999 call where somebody has chest pains and there is a threat of a heart attack.

"Call 999, a clinician will assess that call and then consider the appropriate action whether that's an ambulance, whether it's community services, whether it's NHS 111."

About a quarter of hospitals and community teams in England are taking part in the nurses' strike, alongside all trusts in Northern Ireland and all but one health board in Wales.

Members of the GMB are set to stage a second ambulance worker walkout on December 28.

Meanwhile, rail workers are preparing to continue their strikes, with a walkout planned for Christmas Eve.

This article contains information from PA Media.