‘Bullyboy’ Barclay slams health unions over strikes that could see 15,000 cancelled operations


Health Secretary Steve Barclay has slammed NHS unions in what they call ‘bullyboy’ behaviour and allegedly failed to agree to negotiations on pay which could have seen a pause to strikes and saved 15,000 operations from being cancelled.

The Royal College of Nursing had offered to ‘press pause’ on planned strike action if Mr Barclay agrees to negotiate properly on pay, amid fears that the winter walkouts will cripple an already struggling NHS.

The offer, first reported in The Observer, came on Saturday evening ahead of the first wave of planned strike action next week.

RCN general secretary Pat Cullen, whose members are due to take part in unprecedented strike action on December 15 and December 20, told the newspaper that she was willing to press pause on the walkout by thousands of nurses in England, Wales and Northern Ireland if he agreed to come to the table and discuss a deal on pay demands.

Head of the Royal College of Nursing, Pat Cullen, said the Health Secretary had turned down her negotiation offers five times

Head of the Royal College of Nursing, Pat Cullen, said the Health Secretary had turned down her negotiation offers five times

The RCN has accused Mr Barclay of refusing to properly negotiate on pay

The RCN has accused Mr Barclay of refusing to properly negotiate on pay

The RCN has accused Mr Barclay of refusing to properly negotiate on pay, with the trade union on Friday accusing the Health Secretary of deploying ‘bullyboy’ tactics against a largely female workforce. 

The Department of Health on Saturday night said that the Health Secretary’s ‘door remains open for further talks’, but did not say whether pay would now be on the table.  

Mr Barclay hit back at the RCN, saying: ‘In a winter when we’re worrying about Covid, flu and Strep A – on top of the Covid backlogs – I am deeply concerned about the risks of strike action to patients.’

‘We are working hard to make sure patients experience as little disruption as possible. But with the NHS already under pressure due to the Covid pandemic and coming winter, the risks to patients will be significant,’ he wrote in the Sun on Sunday.

The RCN this week accused Mr Barclay of refusing to properly negotiate on pay, with Ms Cullen suggesting the Health Secretary has deployed ‘bullyboy’ tactics against a largely female workforce.

‘Negotiate with nurses and avoid this strike,’ Ms Cullen said.

‘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. He gains nothing by ignoring the representatives of the NHS workforce.

Nearly 100,000 nurses are set to walk out of 76 hospitals and NHS facilities this week, forcing officials to postpone 15,000 operations. Pictured: nurses protesting in London in 2017

Nearly 100,000 nurses are set to walk out of 76 hospitals and NHS facilities this week, forcing officials to postpone 15,000 operations. Pictured: nurses protesting in London in 2017

The RCN has accused Mr Barclay (pictured) of refusing to properly negotiate on pay, with the trade union on Friday accusing the Health Secretary of deploying ‘bullyboy’ tactics against a largely female workforce 

Shadow health secretary Wes Streeting called it 'an offer the Government can't refuse'

Shadow health secretary Wes Streeting called it ‘an offer the Government can’t refuse’

‘The public blames Government for this dire situation, and they have to face up to it. A swift change of tactics will pay off for all concerned.’

Up to 100,000 nurses are due to take industrial action on two days in the run-up to Christmas, with the RCN warning that it would only commit to providing ‘life-preserving care’ on these days.

Services which do not meet this criteria include hospital discharges, radiotherapy and maternity services. The default position will be that nurses will walk out of A&Es unless trust bosses persuade them they cannot deliver a safe service without them.

This means that 15,000 non-urgent surgeries are set to be cancelled if the strike goes ahead. 

The union is demanding the Government offer nurses a pay rise of 17.6 per cent, which has been dismissed as ‘unaffordable’ by the Prime Minister.

Unison has indicated that it would consider deals similar to those that led to the suspension of strikes in Scotland, if the Health Secretary sat down and discussed pay. 

Unison general secretary Christina McAnea said: ‘Rather than scare the public about the consequences of strikes, the Health Secretary should table genuine plans for improving wages.

‘Sitting down with health unions and improving the pay on offer has put strikes on hold across Scotland.

‘If Steve Barclay were to mirror Holyrood’s approach and commit to boosting wages this year, the threat of pre-Christmas strikes could well be lifted.’

Nursing union brands Health Secretary Steve Barclay a ‘bullyboy’ 

The RCN has accused the Health Secretary of ‘bullyboy’ negotiating tactics by the head of the union.

Steve Barclay has repeatedly been accused by the RCN of failing to properly engage in talks with nurses, even as he insists that his ‘door remains open’.

Ms Cullen, who represents hundreds of thousands of nurses, hit out at the Health Secretary in an interview with The Guardian.

‘I’m a woman negotiating for a 90 per cent female profession that is trying to operate with a Government that’s particularly macho and tends to operate with a bullyboy tactic,’ she said.

‘Perhaps that’s the reason why we can’t get moving forward. By refusing to negotiate Steve Barclay is ignoring nurses and ignoring me.

‘I think there’s an issue here with us being female. I ask myself, would that [refusal to negotiate] be different if it was a 90 per cent male profession and I was a male? I truly believe it would be. I think we’d be treated differently.’

The strike will cause major disruption to the NHS in the run-up to Christmas, with ambulance workers also set to strike on December 21.

The RCN has said that despite this year’s pay award of £1,400, experienced nurses are worse off by 20 per cent in real terms due to successive below-inflation awards since 2010.

The union has been calling for a pay rise of 5 per cent above RPI inflation.

The Health Secretary has repeatedly insisted that the concerns raised by trade unions are not simply about pay and said that the Government was moving to improve conditions for workers in other areas.

He has said several times that his ‘door remains open’ for talks with the unions, but nurses’ representatives have complained that he is not engaging in pay talks.

In response to the latest offer from the unions, a Department of Health spokesperson said: ‘NHS workers do an incredible job caring for our loved ones and it is disappointing some will be taking industrial action, ahead of a difficult winter.

‘Ministers have had constructive talks with unions, including the RCN and Unison, on how we can make the NHS a better place to work – and have been clear the door remains open for further talks.

‘These are extremely challenging times, we have accepted the recommendations of the independent NHS Pay Review Body in full – this means newly qualified nurses have had a 5.5% increase and those on the lowest salaries, such as porters and cleaners, have received a pay rise of up to 9.3%.’

Shadow health secretary Wes Streeting called it ‘an offer the Government can’t refuse’.

He tweeted that the two trade unions had ‘been clear that there is a deal to be done, but the Government must be prepared to negotiate’.

‘It’s time they put patients before Tory politics,’ he added.

Amanda Pritchard, the chief executive of NHS England, has warned that some operations and scans will be cancelled if strike action does go ahead.

It comes as waiting lists are at a record high of 7.1million and as patients face life-threatening delays for an ambulance.

The three unions representing ambulance staff – Unite, Unison and GMB – have also voted in favour of industrial action.

It is understood they could coordinate strikes on December 20 for maximum impact.

Meanwhile, Network Rail has warned passengers that services will be limited, overcrowded or cancelled until at least January 8 as RMT union members strike for 11 days over the holiday season.

Network Rail has warned passengers that services will be limited, overcrowded or cancelled until at least January 8 as RMT union members strike for 11 days over the holiday season

Network Rail has warned passengers that services will be limited, overcrowded or cancelled until at least January 8 as RMT union members strike for 11 days over the holiday season

Conservative MPs have warned the strikes will make Christmas ‘miserable at best and dangerous at worst’, with much of the country grinding to a halt. 

Industrial action at Royal Mail that has already played havoc with the Christmas post will continue tomorrow and on Wednesday and Thursday.

Postal service bosses warned customers that they had just two days to post gifts second class in time for Christmas Day. And some Christmas cards will reportedly not be delivered until February, it was claimed.

A source said: ‘The back-up of the post is really bad. Royal Mail is focusing on parcels and there is not a lot of room in the model for letters.’

Dave Ward, of the Communication Workers Union, said that his members had ‘kept the country going’ during the pandemic and warned that turning Royal Mail into a parcel courier would destroy it.



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