British health minister says pay demand of nurses unaffordable amid strike

With National Health Service (NHS) nurses staging a strike in Britain for better wages and working conditions, health minister Steve Barclay said on Thursday that their pay demands are unaffordable given the economic pressures.

The nurses have demanded a pay rise of 5% plus inflation, arguing that they have suffered 10 years of real-terms cuts and that low pay means staff shortages and unsafe care for patients. The government has said their pay demand would equate to a 19% hike. 

Speaking to news agency Reuters, health minister Barclay said on Thursday “Well we have an independent process that looks at these issues in the round, that looks at the pressure for many viewers face with higher taxes, face with cost of living pressures and balances those with the needs of our NHS as well and that independent pay review looks at these issues and we have accepted their recommendations in full but we also recognise the huge contribution that we saw from nurses during the pandemic and that’s why last year we made a special case where nurses got an extra 3% when others in the public sector did not.”

“But we’ve got to balance that against what is affordable to the wider economy and asking for a 19% pay rise, way above what most viewers themselves are receiving is not affordable given the many other economic pressures that we face,” he further told the news agency. 

Earlier on Thursday, health minister Barclay said it was deeply regrettable that the strike was going ahead adding he was concerned about the risk that the strike poses to patients. 

An estimated 100,000 nurses are on strike at over 70 hospitals and health centres, leading to a cancellation of 70,000 appointments, procedures and surgeries in the NHS. 

Reacting to the walkout, Royal College of Nursing (RCN) union’s head Pat Cullen told the BBC that it was a tragic day for nursing, a tragic day for the patients and the NHS. 

(With inputs from agencies) 

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