Digging in won’t solve pay dispute, nor get the NHS back on its feet

New ambulance strike date announced for 10 February

The NHS won’t be able to deliver the speedier response times and better care the government is promising until ministers try harder to end the growing dispute about pay and staffing, says UNISON today (Tuesday).

Later today the health secretary will be asked about the government’s handling of the NHS dispute by MPs on the health and social care select committee, just as UNISON announces its fourth day of strike action on Friday 10 February.

This morning, NHS pay review body chair Philippa Hird told the committee the Department of Health and Social Care has yet to submit evidence ahead of the next pay round beginning in April. The deadline was 11 January.

UNISON’s 10 February strike again involves ambulance workers across five services in England – London, Yorkshire, the South West, North East and North West.

Strikes will now be happening across the NHS every day next week apart from Wednesday (8 February). UNISON’s action follows hard on the heels of strikes involving ambulance staff, nurses and physiotherapists organised by four other health unions.

With worries about the state of the NHS topping the list of public concerns recently, UNISON’s urging the government to stop pretending the strikes will simply go away and act decisively to end the dispute by improving pay.

But unless the government has a major rethink over NHS pay, and gets actual pay talks going with unions, UNISON warns it will announce strike dates running into March. By then, the dispute is likely to affect double the number of trusts and extend to the whole of the ambulance service in England, says UNISON.

UNISON head of health Sara Gorton said: “After promising everyone a quicker pay review body process, the secretary of state’s own department failed to get its evidence in on time earlier this month.

“Ministers must stop fobbing the public off with promises of a better NHS, while not lifting a finger to solve the staffing emergency staring them in the face.

“The government must stop playing games. Rishi Sunak wants the public to believe ministers are doing all they can to resolve the dispute. They’re not.

“There are no pay talks, and the prime minister must stop trying to hoodwink the public. It’s time for some honesty. Ministers are doing precisely nothing to end the dispute.

“The government’s tactics seem to be to dig in, wait months for the pay review body report and hope the dispute goes away. It won’t. And in the meantime, staff will carry on quitting, and patients being let down.

“There can be no health service without the staff to run it. Ministers must open proper talks to end the dispute and put in place the urgent retention plan needed to boost pay and staffing across the NHS.”

Notes to editors:
– Last week the January 2023 Ipsos Issues Index showed that public concerns about the NHS are now more important than inflation and the economy. Forty two per cent said the NHS was the most pressing issue, up fifteen percentage points since December. This compared to 37% mentioning the economy and 36% inflation.
– On Monday 6 February Royal College of Nursing (RCN), GMB and Unite members will go on strike, followed by a second day of action from the RCN on Tuesday 7. The Chartered Society of Physiotherapy is calling its members out next Thursday, and the day after up to 15,000 UNISON ambulance staff walk out across five ambulance services in England.
– UNISON is also re-balloting workers at the remaining five ambulance services in England (South East Coast, South Central, East of England, West Midlands and East Midlands) as well as in the Welsh Ambulance Service. This vote began on 6 January and ends 16 February. Also being re-balloted are UNISON members at NHS Blood and Transplant, Great Ormond Street Hospital, Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust, Liverpool Women’s Hospital and the North West-based Bridgewater Community Trust.
– UNISON ambulance workers took strike action on 21 December, and again on 11 and 23 January. Friday 10 February is their fourth day of action. Health workers at two Liverpool trusts (the University Hospitals Trust and the city’s Heart and Chest Hospital) first walked out on 21 December and on 23 January. Staff at the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence also went on strike on 17 January.
– Earlier this month, health unions decided against submitting joint evidence about the wage rise due in April to the NHS pay review body because of the ongoing dispute. Health secretary Steve Barclay had promised unions he would speed up the pay review body process, but his department has still not put in its own evidence. The deadline was 11 January.
– UNISON is the UK’s largest union and the largest union in the NHS and in the ambulance sector. It has more than 1.3 million members providing public services – in education, local government, the NHS, police service and energy. They are employed in the public, voluntary and private sectors.

Media contacts:
Liz Chinchen M: 07778 158175 E: press@unison.co.uk
Anthony Barnes M: 07834 864794 E: a.barnes@unison.co.uk