Steve Barclay rinsed for targeting doctors and nurses with anti-strike rules

"Yet another desperate attempt from the Conservatives to distract from their dire record in government"

Steve Barclay has announced that the government is planning to extend minimum service levels legislation to apply to nurses and doctors, in what has been blasted a ‘desperate’ act that could see striking hospital workers sacked.  

The government is seeking to extend their anti-trade union powers through the Minimum Service Levels legislation, with the Health Secretary announcing, in a column for the Daily Telegraph, that they will be launching a consultation today to expand the powers into hospitals.  

On the media rounds this morning, Sky News presenter Jayne Secker questioned why the government is seeking to expand anti-strike legislation, rather than getting to ‘the root of the problem?’

“Wouldn’t it be quicker to get around the table and talk about this, because, my understanding is this could take up to six months to bring in?” Asked Secker.

“What we are announcing today is how we protect time critical hospital services.” Barclay responded. “Because we recognise the right to strike is important, but we have to balance that with the rights for patients.”

He has claimed this move was something France and Italy are already doing, however this was rinsed by lawyer Peter Stefanovic, who called out the reality as ‘dramatically different’. Stefanovic highlighted that ‘it is not the case’ that public sector workers in these countries can get sacked if they refuse to comply with minimum service levels during industrial action, which is what the Tory government are doing.

Stefanovic added: “It’s an absolute disgrace, our NHS workers have always been there for us, now let’s be there for them.”

Wages for junior doctors has fallen 26% between 2008 and 2022, whilst consultants have seen their real terms pay cut by 35%. Junior doctors are demanding a 35% pay restoration to bring their salaries back to 2008 levels, whilst consultants are seeking an about inflation pay rise.

The BMA responded to Barclay by pointing out that the government would not have spent a decade running the health service to the ground if they were serious about patient safety.

 “If this government was serious about patient safety, it would not have deliberately run down the health service over the last 10 years, with the terrible, adverse effects that austerity has had on the health of the nation every day,” Professor Phil Banfield, chair of BMA council, said.

He added: “The BMA has been clear that any strike action taken by members preserves minimum levels of staffing to ensure patient safety.

“We have always maintained that consultants and junior doctors together, will never stage a full walk out and we have been clear that we are not planning to do so, with urgent and emergency care continuing to run. It is disingenuous for the Secretary of State to say otherwise.”

Consultants in England are walking out for 48-hours from Tuesday, joined by junior doctors on Wednesday until Friday.

Banfield highlighted that the only route to ending the strikes was for the government to drop its opposition to negotiating a new pay deal, and get round the table with doctors.

“Rather than focusing on strike days, ministers should be looking to make sure that our health service is safely staffed for 365 days a year.”

Barclay also accused the BMA of taking a ‘political agenda’ by timing their strike to coincide with the Conservative Party conference. Asked if the government was prepared to sack any doctor or nurse who defied the minimum service levels, Barclay did not deny it and said those were decisions for the local employers but that it was about providing the ‘enabling legislation’.

The Trades Union Congress has blasted the move as a ‘desperate attempt’ by the Tories to distract from their ‘dire’ record.

“Nothing works in this country anymore,” slammed Paul Nowak, TUC General Secretary. “But instead of fixing our crumbling public services and sorting out the chronic retention and recruitment crisis blighting our NHS, ministers are threatening nurses and doctors with the sack for exercising their right to strike.”

Nowak warned that the laws will only work to escalate conflicts and sour industrial relations, ultimately worsening disputes.  

“They’re unworkable, undemocratic and almost certainly in breach of international law. That’s why we won’t rest until this Act has been repealed. And we won’t stand by and let workers get sacked for defending their pay and conditions.”

(Image credit: Sky News / YouTube)

Hannah Davenport is news reporter at Left Foot Forward, focusing on trade unions and environmental issues

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