TORY Foreign Secretary James Cleverley yesterday rejected talks with the Royal College of Nursing (RCN), whose members are coming out on strike this Thursday and next Tuesday.
RCN General Secretary Pat Cullen said yesterday morning: ‘UK nurses are the lowest paid in Europe’ and she urged the Tories: ‘Negotiate with the nurses and avoid this strike. Five times my offer to negotiate has been turned down.
‘I will press pause on it when the Health Secretary says he will negotiate seriously on our dispute this year. That means each of us giving some ground.’
However, touring the TV studios Cleverley told the RCN leader to get lost, provocatively claiming that nurses’ pay is nothing to do with the Tory government.
Cleverley said: ‘I think what people need to understand is that the negotiation on pay is done by an independent pay review body.
‘So often we hear people say “take the politics out of this, these things need to be done by independent professionals”, so we put in place the independent pay review body. We’ve accepted their findings in full.
‘Of course the Health Secretary wants to talk to the profession about how we can make the job better, about how we can improve the NHS performance for everybody, but ultimately pay is decided by the independent pay body.’
Asked if Tory Health Secretary Steve Barclay isn’t ‘hiding behind the pay review body’, Cleverley replied: ‘Well he’s said he is willing to meet them but the point is that meetings are different from pay negotiations and most of my time when I’ve been involved in politics people keep saying they want to take the politics out of this.’
Cleverley was asked on Sky News: ‘So you won’t negotiate pay with the nurses?’, to which he replied: ‘So the question I ask is “Do we respect the independent pay review body or not?” The clue’s in the name. It’s independent and it reviews pay awards.’
The interviewer challenged him: ‘But it just seems that there’s no way to resolve this then, if the government is saying that we’re simply not going to move from what the pay review body says, we’re not willing to negotiate with the nurses at all about what they believe.’
Cleverley butted in, saying: ‘Sorry but this question is going round in circles,’ to which the interviewer responded: ‘But I’m not getting a straight answer,’ which Cleverley topped by interjecting: ‘I’m sorry, you’re not getting an answer that you like, but that’s different. I’m giving you a straight answer. The independent pay review bodies were created to resolve differences between the bodies seeking pay, whether the health profession, the teaching profession, other professions and the government holding the purse strings.
‘They are the adjudicator. They were created independent of government. They are staffed by experts. That is why they exist. They make recommendations and in this instance we have accepted their recommendation.’
Challenged: ‘But the nurses don’t accept it and it seems therefore that there is no way to move forward from this,’ Cleverley responded: ‘Well, as I’ve said, the Health Secretary has said his door is open. He wants to talk to the health professionals about how we can reform the NHS, how we make sure it’s a job they want to do.’
He was then asked: ‘Ambulance staff are out on strike next week, do you think people will die because of this?’
Cleverley replied: ‘We very much regret the fact that the ambulance service and other key public services are going on strike. We are looking at contingency planning.’
The Tory government has let it be known that a ‘formal request’ for British Army troops to be mobilised to drive ambulances is just days away.
Five other NHS unions are currently balloting for strike action, junior doctors, midwives, physiotherapists and hospital porters.