Nurses strike: RCN members at St Thomas’ Hospital in London
The Prime Minister was warned that even the most “hawkish” Conservative MPs are “sceptical” that the current four percent rise is enough. Ex-Tory chairman Sir Jake Berry said ministers and the Royal College of Nursing, which is demanding 19 percent, should get around the table and thrash out an agreement to stop months of disruption in the health service.
Writing in the Daily Express, he said: “I, just like every other member of the public, am fed up with political games being played out on television and in Westminster, especially as anyone with an ounce of common sense knows that both sides will eventually compromise.
“So do us all a favour and give us an early Christmas Present by sitting down and sorting this out.”
But Whitehall insiders indicated a deal is a long way from being struck because “relations have soured considerably” between the government and the RCN over recent days.
It follows the collapse of talks between the nursing union and Health Secretary Steve Barclay on Monday night.
Mr Barclay is understood to have been shocked by the personal nature of the attacks he has faced since the meeting, including claims of “belligerence” and “bully boy” tactics.
Polling for the Daily Express shows striking nurses top the chart when it comes to support from the public at 24 percent.
Rail workers were less than half the rate at 11 percent and most of the public think militant RMT boss Mick Lynch is deliberately heaping pain on train passengers over Christmas.
Three-quarters of over-55s believe the country is being plunged into another winter of discontent.
Whitehall insiders indicated a deal is a long way from being struck
The government has so far refused to negotiate pay for nurses because it says the decision about what rise they should receive was decided by an independent pay review.
But a former head of the body, Jerry Cope, said ministers should ask for a new settlement to be drawn up because it is now out of date.
“It took place in February and the world was a rather different place in February and therefore I think some of the evidence they considered was probably out of date by the time it was published,” he said.
“That may be a possibility for a solution for this apparently intractable problem.
“I think they (ministers) should ask the pay review body to reconsider what they did last year and not reopen last year because I think it’s too late to do that but actually say I want you to do a very quick turnaround for this year’s recommendations and I want you to take account on anything you might have missed last time round.
“I think it’s a way out because it respects the integrity of the pay review body.”
Downing Street said it has “no plans” to call for that to be reviewed.
Conservative Steve Brine, who chairs the health select committee, urged No 10 to change its mind.
“I think the way out is to protect the integrity of the process, go back and ask them to look again,” he said.
“Everyone needs to cool it and I think sending it back to the pay review body to have a look would be a sensible answer.”
Former Tory health minister Dr Dan Poulter said that “inflation has significantly eroded real-terms pay since the review bodies made their recommendations earlier in the year” and the Government should “improve on the current offer on the table”.
Thousands of nurses in England, Wales and Northern Ireland walked out yesterday in the biggest round of industrial action to hit the NHS in its history.
The strikes affected around a quarter of hospitals and community teams in England, all trusts in Northern Ireland and all but one health board in Wales.
Dennis Reed, Silver Voices director, said the dispute must be sorted quickly for the good of patients.
He said: “Negotiations must resume and nothing must be left of the table as far as the government is concerned.
“It is imperative for older people that this dispute is sorted quickly.”
Four out of five Britons are worried about the NHS’s ability to provide safe care for patients during strikes by nurses and ambulance workers, another poll has found.
While around half of those surveyed said they support the planned industrial action, the majority expressed concern about the impact on patient safety.
The Ipsos poll of 1,100 adults found that 80 percent were very or fairly concerned about the ability of the NHS to provide safe care for people during the nurses’ strike, which began on Thursday.
Health minister Maria Caulfield said around 70,000 appointments, procedures and surgeries will be lost in England due to the strike. Thousands more will be affected in Northern Ireland and Wales.
Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, warned that the Government must act to prevent future strikes.
He said: “The first RCN strike has gone as expected, with the NHS being able to maintain safe staffing levels across key services for patients and making sure that urgent and life-saving care have been prioritised.
“This is thanks to the cooperation between the union representatives, nurses and NHS organisations at local levels, which health leaders hope will continue next week.
“No health leader wanted to be in this situation and the strikes could have been avoided had the Government attempted to find more common ground with the RCN on pay.
“The Government cannot just sit back and let future strikes happen when patient care is on the line.
“The worry is that this is just the start, that strikes possibly being planned for January could be more severe and coordinated across the different unions and that we could be in a position of stalemate for the foreseeable future. This benefits no one and the Government must act.”
NHS 111 calls over Strep A hit new high
Demand for advice from NHS 111 has shot up as worried parents seek help following the rise in strep A infections, writes Hanna Geissler, Daily Express Health Editor. The service dealt with more than 700,000 calls last week – the highest since the first weeks of the pandemic and up 60 percent on the previous week.
The number of parents calling about strep A was more than double that at the same time last year.
Professor Sir Stephen Powis, NHS national medical director, urged people to use online services where possible. He said: “This huge increase in calls to NHS 111 is understandable with concerns about winter viruses – including Strep A – a top priority for the public.
“But it is more important than ever that the public uses 111 online where possible to get important information about non-emergency health conditions and to be signposted to the best possible care.”
Last night the UK Health Security Agency confirmed that 74 people had died of invasive Group A strep infections in England this season, including 16 children.
Three other deaths of children have been recorded in Belfast and Wales, taking the UK total to 19.
During the last season of high cases in 2017/18, there were 355 deaths including 27 children.
Dr Ron Daniels, CEO of the UK Sepsis Trust, warned the public should be alert to symptoms of strep A and resulting sepsis in adults as well as children.
He said: “We completely understand the media are going to focus on the tragic deaths of infants and children who have succumbed to invasive Group A strep, but this is something that can affect people of any age.”
Due to increased demand for antibiotics, pharmacists will now be able to supply three penicillin medicines to treat Strep A.
Minister of State for Health Will Quince said: “The increased demand for the antibiotics prescribed to treat Strep A has meant some pharmacists have been unable to supply the medicine shown on the prescription.
“These Serious Shortage Protocols will allow pharmacists to supply an alternative form of penicillin, which will make things easier for them, patients, and GPs.
“We are taking decisive action to address these temporary issues and improve access to these medicines by continuing to work with manufacturers and wholesalers to speed up deliveries, bring forward stock they have to help ensure it gets to where it’s needed, and boost supply to meet demand as quickly as possible.”
Worrying symptoms in adults include slurred speech, extreme pain in the muscles or joints, passing no urine in a day and severe breathlessness. In children, symptoms include fast breathing, fits, a rash that does not fade when pressed, and a child becoming difficult to rouse or abnormally pale.
Dr Daniels, who works in intensive care, said he had seen increasing numbers of patients with both strep A and strep pneumoniae.
The number of parents calling about strep A was more than double that at the same time last year
But he added: “Most cases of strep A are really quite benign. It’s only when those symptoms present that people need to worry.
“I’ve had so many parents contact me saying: ‘Should I be worried about my child with a rash?’ Or a strawberry tongue.
“The answer in most cases is probably not. But people need to be aware of the risk of deterioration. As a parent, you’ve got to trust your instincts.”
Meanwhile, hospital admissions for flu continue to rise. There were 1,162 patients in wards last week, up by almost two-thirds from 712 the week before.
NHS England said 87 people were in intensive care with influenza – a 50 percent rise on the previous week.
At the same time last year when there was barely any flu, just 25 patients were in hospital and one in intensive care.
Some 457 beds were also taken up by patients with norovirus last week, up a fifth from the previous week.
Hospital occupancy remained high with more than 19 in 20 adult general and acute beds occupied.
Delayed discharges, particularly for patients needing social care, meant an average of 13,245 beds were taken up by those medically fit to go home.
Prof Powis said: “Earlier this month I warned of a ‘perfect storm’ of winter pressures but the NHS has prepared like never before with the rollout of falls response services, system control centres, additional equivalent beds and extra call handlers.
“Please do come forward for the care you need and get your Covid and flu vaccines if you are eligible.”
Flu hospital admissions overtake Covid-19 admissions for first time
Flu admissions in hospitals in England have overtaken those for people with Covid-19 for the first time since the coronavirus pandemic began, figures show, writes Ian Jones.
The rate of flu admissions stood at 6.8 per 100,000 people in the week to December 11, compared with 6.6 per 100,000 for Covid-19.
Both levels are currently rising, but the rate of flu admissions has jumped sharply week-on-week – nearly doubling from 3.9 per 100,000 – while Covid-19 admissions are climbing more slowly.
The figures are the latest sign that flu is becoming steadily more prevalent among the population.
Hospital admissions of people with flu are now running at a higher rate than in any week during the previous four winters, according to data from the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA).
Admissions are highest among those aged 85 and over, at 23.1 per 100,000 people, up week-on-week from 10.7.
There has been a similarly large jump in the rate among children aged four and under, from 8.4 to 20.7.
All children aged two and three are eligible for a flu nasal spray vaccine, which is being offered by local GPs.
But only 37.4 percent of two-year-olds have received the vaccine so far, along with 39.5 percent of three-year-olds – well below the take-up reached at this point in previous winters.
In total, about 33 million people in England can get a free flu vaccine this year, including everyone aged 50 and over, all primary-age children and some secondary-age children.
The vaccine is also being offered to pregnant women, people in care homes, frontline health and social care staff, carers, those aged six to 49 with a specified health condition, and household contacts of people with weakened immune systems.
Dr Conall Watson, UKHSA consultant epidemiologist, said: “Flu is now circulating widely and we have seen a sharp rise in the rate of hospitalisations for flu this week, particularly among the under-fives and over-85s.
“Admissions are now at the highest point since the 2017/18 season and we are expecting case numbers to continue increasing as we move further into winter.
“The flu vaccine offers the best protection against severe illness and it’s not too late for everyone eligible to get it.
“Uptake is particularly low in those aged two and three, so if your child is eligible please take up the offer.”
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Anyone who has worked in the commercial world knows that deals only get done and contracts only become agreed when both sides are prepared to be realistic.
The walking out of thousands of nurses today is a failure of both sides to be pragmatic. Most people would accept that, in strained economic times combined with a national endeavour to tackle inflation, the demanding of 19 percent pay rise by the Royal College of Nurses is neither realistic nor in the National interest. Nurses are held in the highest esteem by us all, not least me, but in order to seek resolution, realism is going to have to be shown by the Union.
On the other side of the dispute is the Government. Even the most hawkish of Conservative Members of Parliament are sceptical that the current offer of between 4 and 5 percent is going to satisfy either nurses or the vast majority of the British people who are inherently on the side of nurses.
I have a lot of sympathy for the Health Secretary. Steve Barclay is an incredibly capable Minister and is put in a difficult position where unions are using their usual tactics of overreach to the detriment of their members and the British people. That being said, in politics as in life, pragmatism and realism are needed to progress. Whilst we should never be beholden to union barons, the Government has a duty to the public to ensure our public services are looked after in the most responsible way.
In my life before becoming an MP when I was a lawyer, I would always advise clients that when you know you are going to have to compromise, the quicker you do it the better. That way you avoid additional cost in the commercial world and in the Public Sector, you minimise disruption.
And in this case, minimising disruption matters. The NHS was already in crisis before this dispute, with record waiting times following the Covid pandemic. This industrial action will see the cancellation of hundreds of thousands of non-urgent appointments. Whilst these are classed by the NHS as “non-urgent”, this translates to hundreds of thousands of British people, who have already had to wait too long for their hip operations, diagnostic tests and rehabilitative therapy waiting longer.
That’s why I have called for both sides to get around the table. This has to be done with the acceptance that they are both going to have to move or this strike action will go on for months. It’s not good enough for the unions to hide behind a 19 percent pay demand nor is it acceptable for the Government to claim that the independent pay bodies are in charge.
Intransigence from either party puts two of our nation’s greatest assets, the NHS, and the health of its people in peril and that’s not acceptable.
I, just like every other member of the public are fed up with political games being played out on television and in Westminster, especially as anyone with an ounce of common sense knows that both sides will eventually compromise. So do us all a favour and give us an early Christmas Present by sitting down and sorting this out.