Thank you to all those who contacted me about NHS staff pay. We owe all NHS workers our full support. Day in, day out, they make an incredible contribution to our health service.
Despite the remarkable efforts of staff, I am concerned that Government mismanagement has resulted in record NHS waiting lists and chronic staff shortages. Years of pay freezes and burnout are affecting hard-pressed staff and work-related stress has increased.
Valuing our NHS workforce, through fair pay and conditions, is essential to retaining staff and tackling vacancies. Yet, dedicated NHS staff have been forced into industrial action. Against the backdrop of falling real-wages and mounting pressures, I understand the concerns of health workers on pay and conditions, and on the state of NHS services. Strikes are always a last resort and NHS staff do not want to take action any more than anyone else wants it.
The power to stop these strikes lies with the Health Secretary. His refusal to engage in serious negotiations is leading to talks breaking down. Instead, Ministers are legislating for ‘minimum service levels’ on strike days which I believe will only serve to inflame rather than resolve disputes.
Rather than blaming nurses, paramedics and NHS staff for the challenges in our health service – which are instead a direct result of 13 years of Government mismanagement – Ministers should engage seriously with health unions to avert further strikes.
Talk of ‘minimum service levels’ on strike days, in my view, is disrespectful to hardworking NHS staff and hypocritical when the Government cannot guarantee minimum service levels on any other day. This winter has seen patients waiting hours for ambulances to arrive and A&E departments overstretched. Waiting lists are at record levels – over seven million people are waiting for treatment – and cancer targets have repeatedly been missed.
I believe the problems across our health and social care system are endemic. The root cause of this crisis is the failure to provide the NHS with the staff it needs to treat patients on time.
The Opposition has set out its plan to support NHS staff and improve patient care, recruiting 7,500 more doctors and 10,000 more nurses and midwives every year; doubling the number of district nurses; and providing 5,000 more health visitors – paid for by abolishing the non-dom tax status.