Steve Barclay warns that NHS strikes are impacting patients terribly

Health Secretary Steve Barclay warns never-ending NHS strikes are having a terrible impact on patients – as unions behind today’s biggest EVER walk-out threaten to continue chaos ‘for as long as it takes’ in hunt for better pay deal

  • Up to 30,000 nurses are staging walkouts at 73 NHS trusts across England
  • 11,500 ambulance staff also walking out in England and Northern Ireland 
  • *Have you been affected by today’s action? Email [email protected]*

Steve Barclay today admitted NHS strikes are having a terrible impact on patients as the number of cancelled operations and treatments soared past 100,000.

The Health Secretary tried to downplay the scale of the latest walk-out by tens of thousands of workers during a visit to Kingston Hospital in south west London, saying ‘the majority of trusts are not on strike’.

But, asked what harm industrial action was causing to the sick and dying, he added: ‘We’ve seen the impact in terms of appointments and patient procedures – 80,000 or so appointments cancelled and 11,000 in-patient operations in terms of the strikes to date – so there is an impact on patients’.

Thousands more appointments were expected to be cancelled as a result of today’s strike by nurses and ambulance workers – the biggest in the history of the NHS and the first time the two groups have staged stoppages at the same time – pushing the total into six figures.

Many more patients are set to miss out as nurses continue their walk-out tomorrow over pay and conditions, while ambulance workers will strike again on Friday.

Health and Social Care Secretary Steve Barclay during a visit to Kingston Hospital in south west London as NHS nurses and ambulance drivers took to the picket lines today

Royal College of Nursing general secretary Pat Cullen (right) on the picket line outside Great Ormond Street Hospital in London during a strike by nurses on February 6

Physiotherapists are staging their own action on Thursday. Unions have demanded inflation-busting pay rises of up to 19.2 per cent.

Mr Barclay added: ‘Despite contingency measures in place, strikes by ambulance and nursing unions this week will inevitably cause further delays for patients who already face longer waits due to the Covid backlogs.’

However, there still appears to be no end in sight as Mr Barclay once again refused to renegotiate this year’s pay deal and unions warned strikes will continue until ministers cave in.

The health secretary, who this afternoon skipped an urgent question in the Commons to attend an emergency Cobra meeting on the crisis, said: ‘I don’t think it’s right to go back to last year, to last April, retrospectively, we should be looking forward to the pay review body that is taking evidence now and working constructively with the trade unions.’

The chaos prompted NHS Providers, which represents trusts, to urge the public to use emergency services ‘wisely’, warning the NHS was approaching a ‘crunch point’.

VOTE HERE Are NHS staff taking the never-ending pay dispute too far by striking on the SAME day? Vote here and tell us why… 

More than 40,000 nurses, paramedics and emergency call handlers are taking part in the coordinated strike action today. Pictured above, nurses on the picket line outside St Thomas’ Hospital, London on February 6

Deputy chief executive Saffron Cordery said: ‘What we previously had with industrial action has been, for example, community nursing being able to plug the gaps left when ambulance staff are out on strike.

‘But, obviously, with nurses and ambulances out today, that’s going to be incredibly difficult.’

She added: ‘We’re planning for an incredibly disrupted week.’

The NHS Confederation, which represents NHS organisations, has warned the health service will struggle to clear treatment backlogs and improve emergency care unless the wave of strikes ends.

It has also predicted patients may be put off accessing health care due to the disruption caused by strikes, meaning worse problems are being stored up for the future.

The Royal College of Nursing dug in this morning, insisting strikes would continue ‘for as long as it takes’.

Speaking at a picket line outside St Mary’s Hospital in Paddington, west London, Pat Cullen, the union’s chief executive, said: ‘Hundreds of thousands of nurses take part in this ballot and they’ve given me the strongest mandate of any nursing profession throughout the world, so they will continue to do this for as long as it takes for this Government to actually wake up and listen to their voice and listen to their voice on behalf of patients and do the decent thing.’

Among those on picket lines was trainee nursing associate Victoria Busk, who stood with colleagues outside Queen Elizabeth Hospital Birmingham.

She said change wouldn’t happen ‘unless we take action’, adding: ‘It’s not just us suffering – it’s our patients that are on that ward that aren’t getting care that they deserve and need, when things are left undone.’

Caroline Abraham, charity director of Age UK, called on both sides to come to an agreement to avoid prolonging the agony for elderly patients.

She said: ‘Many older people are frequent users of the NHS because, as we age, we are likely to develop long term health conditions needing ongoing specialist treatment, along with a requirement for surgery for cataracts, hip replacements and the like, and diagnostics.

‘As a result, unfortunately the industrial action in the NHS is likely to be having some impact on significant numbers of older people and, as it intensifies, it’s becoming harder for NHS managers to juggle resources in order to keep any service disruption to an absolute minimum.

‘It is strongly in older people’s interests for the industrial disputes in the NHS to be speedily resolved, so we call on all the parties, including the Government, to come to the table in a spirt of compromise to make this happen.’

Responding to Labour’s urgent question in the Commons earlier this afternoon, health minister Will Quince said: ‘In preparation for today’s industrial action, we have again drawn on extra support from a range of places including military service personnel, volunteers, and the private sector.

Nurses strike at St Thomas’ Hospital in London on February 6 as part of the ongoing row over pay and conditions

Royal College of Nursing members striking at St Thomas’ Hospital in London on February 6

‘People should continue to use NHS 111 If they need medical help, and 999 in the event of an emergency.

‘Yet, Mr. Speaker, even with such strong contingencies in place, including more people trained to drive ambulances and doctors redeployed to other parts of the system, it is no replacement for having the right people doing the right jobs.

‘And any strike inevitably means that some patients will have their treatment delayed.’

Ministers fear that patients’ lives will be at risk due to the delayed care and slower ambulance response times caused by the first simultaneous NHS strikes. More walkouts are planned this week. 

The RCN is calling for an 18.4 per cent pay rise — based on the current rate of inflation. It would see the average nurses’ salary go from £37,000 to £43,800.

But the union said it would halt the current strike action if the Government meets with its representative to discuss pay.

READ MORE: Are UK nurses paid more than those in Europe? And how much extra do they want? All you need to know about the never-ending NHS salary row as week of walk-outs begin

Ms Cullen today said nurses are ‘trying to bring the NHS back from the brink’ and ‘deserve and need a decent pay rise’.

Speaking outside St Mary’s Hospital in Paddington, west London, she said: ‘Hundreds of thousands of nurses take part in this ballot and they’ve given me the strongest mandate of any nursing profession throughout the world.

‘They will continue to do this for as long as it takes for this Government to actually wake up and listen to their voice on behalf of patients and do the decent thing.’

Ms Cullen added: ‘We will continue to see nurses leaving England to work in Scotland and Wales so they can get a few extra pounds every day to be able to pay their bills. 

‘That is no way to treat the nurses of England, in fact, it is totally punishing the nurses of England as we speak.’

In a letter to the Prime Minister over the weekend, Ms Cullen said: ‘Please address this current impasse. 

‘I have made clear opening negotiations and making meaningful offers can avert strike action.’

The Government has insisted its offer of around 4 per cent, or £1,400, is all it can afford. The deal, awarded last year, was backed by the NHS Pay Review Body.

On Friday, the Welsh Government offered NHS staff an extra 3 per cent pay rise for the current financial year. In response, the RCN scrapped its planned walkouts this week.

In Scotland, there are no strikes scheduled as the Government is negotiating with the union. 

Writing to Rishi Sunak, Ms Cullen said: ‘Your Government looks increasingly isolated in refusing to reopen discussions about the 2022-23 NHS pay award. 

RCN general secretary Ms Cullen (right), speaks to workers on the picket line outside the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery in London on February 6

Nurses strike on a picket line outside the Royal Marsden Hospital in London on February 6

Striking nurses hold placards on the picket line outside the Royal Marsden Hospital in London on February 6

Royal College of Nursing members striking at St Thomas’ Hospital in London on February 6

‘As a result, the strike action for England remains — with tens of thousands of nurses losing wages to ensure you hear their voice. It must not be in vain. 

‘It will be the biggest day of industrial action in the 75-year history of the NHS. Nursing staff find that a sobering realisation of how far they have been pushed to protect patient care and secure some respect for the nursing profession.

‘I’m urging you to reset your Government in the eyes of the public and demonstrate it is on the side of the hardworking, decent taxpayer. There could be no simpler way to demonstrate this commitment than bringing the nurse strike to a swift close.’ 

Unions argue that low pay is forcing staff to leave the health service, exacerbating long-standing staffing issues and contributing to worsening ambulance response times. 

READ MORE No wonder NHS can’t afford union pay demands: On the day of biggest ever strike, we reveal that health service spends £400,000 A DAY on private ambulances and taxis for patients 

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Desperate bosses are increasingly turning to the commercial sector and the outlay on private ambulances and taxis has jumped 62 per cent in just three years. The bill soared to £145million in 2022 – almost £400,000 a day 

Maria Caulfield, minister for mental health and women’s health strategy, urged the RCN to call off the strikes and warned patients lives would be put at risk the longer action rumbled on. 

She said: ‘There is a risk to patients the longer that strikes go on.

‘So if your operation is cancelled the first time, there is probably a minimum risk.

‘If that’s cancelled time and time again because of ongoing strikes, then patients become more poorly and there is always a risk.

‘And with ambulance strikes, if someone’s having a heart attack or a stroke, that does increase someone’s risk the longer that response time is.’ 

It comes after Business Secretary Grant Shapps yesterday said he was ‘concerned’ that strike action could put lives at risk, warning of a ‘postcode lottery’ for some 999 callers.

Ms Caulfield, who is also a nurse and member of the RCN, told Times Radio that the Health Secretary had met with health unions ‘virtually on a weekly basis during January’ to talk about the pay award for 2023/24.

She added: ‘We are very happy to talk about the forthcoming year’s pay award, which is exactly what they’ve done in Scotland and the RCN have called off the strikes as a result.’

Asked if those talks would also look at pay for 2022/23, Ms Caulfield replied: ‘In Scotland, they are not discussing last year’s pay either, so that’s my point, we are in the same place as Scotland.

‘In England, what the unions have done is withdrawn from the independent pay review process, which doesn’t help at all because we want to submit our evidence, put our case about what is affordable and what we are willing to offer but also the unions need to do that too as they did last year.’

She told TalkTV that it would be ‘difficult’ to reopen pay discussions for 2022/23 because the unions agreed to a 4.5 per cent pay rise for most nurses and an 8.9 per cent increase for newly qualified staff. 

Ms Caulfield told GB news that she has a ‘lot of sympathy’ for striking nurses but said the Government has ‘responsibility to the taxpayer’ to follow the independent pay review process.

She added: ‘It is difficult for us now if we are to give a pay (rise) to nurses, we would have to look at teachers, ambulance drivers.

‘We just can’t afford inflation-busting pay rises that the unions are currently demanding.’ 

Victoria Busk, a trainee nursing associate on a trauma ward at Queen Elizabeth Hospital Birmingham, said staff are ‘run off our feet’.

She said that she doesn’t see a future working in the NHS unless pay and staffing levels are boosted.

Nurses at St Thomas’ Hospital in London join picket lines on February 6

NHS staff striking outside Queen Elizabeth hospital in Birmingham on February 6

Striking nurses hold a banner and placards outside Queen Elizabeth hospital in Birmingham on February 6

Ms Busk said: ‘At the moment I am thinking “I don’t want to end my career in a hospital”.

‘I love my job, I love the work I do, making a difference to patients. But I can’t imagine doing this until I’m in my 60s.

‘I’ll retire and I won’t be able to do anything. We’re run off our feet 24/7, breaking our backs doing the jobs of three people.’  

Joining the nurses, almost 9,000 ambulance staff — including paramedics, emergency care assistants and call handlers — who are members of the GMB union will walkout across England.

And more than 2,600 paramedics who are members of Unite will take action in the North West, North East, East Midlands, West Midlands, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Major pickets — including Brighton, Liverpool, Harrogate and Gateshead — will see 999 crews line up alongside nurses.

More cash won’t solve NHS crisis, head of leadership review says

Dishing out more money to the NHS won’t address its efficiency and leadership problems, a former general has said.

Sir Gordon, who completed a review of NHS management last year, said handing over more cash to the NHS before it is reformed is akin to ‘painting bedrooms without fixing the roof’.

His comments come after the publication of the emergency care recovery plan, which pledged £14.1bllion to boost performance over two years.  

Sir Gordon, who led the Royal Marines’ invasion of Iraq, told The Telegraph: ‘The two big things you want from the health service is productivity – ie effective use of public money – and good patient care.

‘I would argue that a really important component of that is a well-led, well motivated, valued, resilient workforce, which comes from the culture and the right attitude to leadership.

‘I found inadequate focus on that… and I would argue that unless you get the right culture, which means better leadership, it’s almost like painting bedrooms without fixing the roof, in terms of throwing money at A&E waiting times.’ 

Unions have committed to providing ‘life and limb’ emergency cover on strike days.

But patients who suffer heart attacks, strokes or falls may be denied an ambulance when dialling 999 on strike days, while also facing longer waits in A&E. 

Workers across the ambulance service voted to strike over the Government’s 4 per cent pay award.

Rachel Harrison, GMB national secretary, said: ‘It’s been almost a month since the Government engaged in any meaningful dialogue – instead, they’ve wasted time attempting to smear ambulance workers.’

She added: ‘The NHS is crumbling, people are dying and this Government is dithering.

‘The public back ambulance workers. The Government needs to wake up and talk pay now.’ 

Sharon Graham, general secretary of the Unite union, called on Mr Sunak and Mr Barclay to open negotiations on pay or face a ‘constant cycle’ of walkouts.

Speaking from a picket in Wales, she said the Government has not discussed pay at ‘any time’ and it is the only way to end the dispute.

Ms Graham said: ‘That’s what needs to happen. Until that happens, we are in this constant cycle of having strike action, which obviously nobody wants.

‘Our members do not want to be on strike. They want to be at work serving the country.’  

She added: ‘They can’t just always sing “la la la la la” and hope that the year goes by and we will forget what’s happened. This year’s pay needs to be addressed.

‘But this is part of the problem – I’m not sure that they understand how to negotiate, maybe Rishi Sunak is not up to the job.’ 

Unite is the only NHS union staging walkouts in Wales today, after others called off planned strikes after the Welsh Government offered an improved pay offer of an extra 3 per cent on Friday.

Ms Graham said Unite is ‘tantalisingly close’ to a deal but the ‘sticking point’ is that half of the pay increase is a one-off payment. 

She said: ‘What we’re simply asking is to put more of that on the wages, so that people have that forever, it’s in their pay packet, because that will address some of the concerns.’

 Sir Julian Hartley, chief executive of NHS Providers, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘Today represents a very significant moment. 

Ambulance workers on the picket line outside Gateshead Ambulance Station on February 6

A GMB union picket line outside Gateshead Ambulance Station on February 6

Striking GMB ambulance workers picket outside Fazakerley Ambulance Station in Liverpool on February 6

‘Having both ambulance workers and nurses out means that the logistical planning exercise for trusts has been a significant one.

‘With fewer ambulances on the road and nurses in hospital, bosses have been working to discharge patients from hospital and rebook both surgery and outpatient appointments.

‘We do expect to have significant disruption in terms of planned care, outpatients and electives, but obviously making sure we deliver the priority of patient safety for urgent and emergency care.’

He called on the Government to open talks with nurses and warned strikes ‘really takes away’ from clearing the record backlog and the emergency care recovery.  

Sir Julian added: ‘We can’t go on with a series of industrial action that really takes away from focusing on those prioritise. 

‘I can’t overstate the amount of work that goes on in organisations to manage and mitigate for industrial action. Our focus needs to be on delivering for patients as the NHS in those key areas.’

Following the action this week, ambulance staff have announced strikes for February 20 and March 6 and 20. 

Junior doctors could also join the action later in the year with the British Medical Association currently balloting its members on strike action.

Where are the strikes today? 


East Midlands

Nottingham University Hospitals NHS Trust

Kettering General Hospital NHS Foundation Trust 

East Midlands Ambulance Service NHS Trust


Norfolk and Norwich University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust

Cambridge University Hospital NHS Foundation Trust

West Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust 

East Suffolk and North Essex NHS Foundation Trust

Royal Papworth Hospital NHS Foundation Trust


Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust

Guys and St Thomas NHS Foundation Trust

Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children NHS Foundation Trust 

St George’s University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust 

Kings College Hospital NHS Foundation Trust

University College London Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust 

Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust

North West

Lancashire Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust 

Wrightington Wigan and Leigh NHS Foundation TrusT

Countess of Chester Hospital NHS Foundation Trust 

Liverpool University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust

Mid Cheshire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust 

Wirral University Teaching Hospital NHS Found Trust 

St Helens and Knowsley Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust 

Tameside and Glossop Integrated Care NHS Foundation Trust 

North West Ambulance Service NHS Trust 

Liverpool Heart and Chest Hospital NHS Found Trust – 6 Feb / 7 Feb

The Clatterbridge Cancer Centre NHS Found Trust

The Christie NHS Foundation Trust 

Liverpool Women’s NHS Foundation Trust

Alder Hey Children’s NHS Foundation Trust

The Walton Centre NHS Foundation Trust


University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay NHS Foundation Trust 

The Newcastle Upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust

South Tees Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust

Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust

County Durham and Darlington NHS Foundation Trust

Gateshead Health NHS Foundation Trust 

North East Ambulance Service NHS Trust

South East

University Hospitals Sussex NHS Foundation Trust

Queen Victoria Hospital NHS Foundation Trust

Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust

Portsmouth Hospitals NHS Trust

University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation Trust

Royal Berkshire NHS Foundation Trust

Oxford Health NHS Foundation Trust

East Sussex Healthcare NHS Trust

South East Coast Ambulance Service 

South Central Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust 

South West

Gloucestershire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust 

University Hospitals Plymouth NHS Trust

University Hospitals Bristol and Weston NHS Foundation Trust

Dorset County Hospital NHS Foundation Trust 

Royal Devon University Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust

Great Western Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust

Salisbury NHS Foundation Trust

University Hospitals Dorset NHS Foundation Trust

Royal Cornwall Hospitals NHS Trust

Royal United Hospitals Bath NHS Foundation Trust 

North Bristol NHS Trust

Torbay and South Devon NHS Foundation Trust 

Somerset NHS Foundation Trust

South Western Ambulance Service NHS Found Trust

West Midlands

Worcestershire Acute Hospitals NHS Trust

University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust

The Royal Orthopaedic Hospital NHS Foundation Trust

Birmingham Women’s and Children’s NHS Foundation Trust

Robert Jones and Agnes Hunt Orthopaedic Hospital NHS Foundation Trust

Yorkshire & Humber

Barnsley Hospital NHS Foundation Trust

Bradford Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust

York and Scarborough Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust

Harrogate and District NHS Foundation Trust

The Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust

Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust 

Sheffield Children’s NHS Foundation Trust


East Midlands Ambulance Service

North East Ambulance Service 

North West Ambulance Service 

West Midlands Ambulance Service

South East Coast Ambulance Service 

South Central Ambulance Service 

South Western Ambulance Service

Yorkshire Ambulance Service 

Wales Ambulance Service

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