Steve Barclay claims health unions have taken ‘conscious choice to inflict harm on patients’ – UK politics live

Good morning. With ambulance staff on strike in England and Wales today, we’ve arrived at what is probably the most perilous day of shutdown month so far, because of the risk to patients if emergency care is not available. Strikes always generate a furious blame game, and overnight it has intensified because of an article that Steve Barclay, the health secretary, has written for the Daily Telegraph.

Barclay accuses the health unions of making contingency planning for the strike “almost impossible” and, as a result, putting lives at risk. He says:

I met representatives of the three unions on Tuesday. They promised that each ambulance trust where their members are striking would have sufficient cover to respond to the most serious emergencies. Yet even on the eve of the walkout, the cover arrangements were changing and the national picture was not clear. This has made contingency planning, including the deployment of military personnel who will be behind the wheels of ambulances on our streets, almost impossible.

We now know that the NHS contingency plans will not cover all 999 calls. Ambulance unions have taken a conscious choice to inflict harm on patients.

Christina McAnea, the general secretary of Unison, which represents some of the ambulance staff on strike, said this morning she was “utterly shocked” by Barclay’s claims. She says Barclay himself acknowledged yesterday that NHS staff had negotiated detailed, appropriate plans for their areas.

I’m utterly shocked by the SoS’s comments in the media.

He’s never specifically asked UNISON for a national contingency agreement.

In our meeting yesterday, he acknowledged that NHS staff – our local unions – have negotiated detailed, appropriate plans for their areas.

— Christina McAnea (@cmcanea) December 21, 2022

These accusations from the SoS are a distraction from the government’s own failings and their refusal to constructively resolve this dispute.

— Christina McAnea (@cmcanea) December 21, 2022

Here yesterday, SoS’s own acknowledgment that contingency plans are in place.

Ambulance staff, going on strike today, have worked on negotiating these plans that have been signed off with their employers.

— Christina McAnea (@cmcanea) December 21, 2022

My colleague Kevin Rawlinston is covering the ambulance strike on a separate live blog.

I will be covering some of the political aspects of it here, but also focusing on other political news (of which there is not much, because the Commons is in recess). Here is the agenda for the day.

10am: Suella Braverman, the home secretary, gives evidence to the Lords justice and home affairs committee.

1.15pm: MSPs resume their debate on the gender recognition reform (Scotland) bill.

I’ll try to monitor the comments below the line (BTL) but it is impossible to read them all. If you have a direct question, do include “Andrew” in it somewhere and I’m more likely to find it. I do try to answer questions, and if they are of general interest I will post the question and reply above the line (ATL), although I can’t promise to do this for everyone.

If you want to attract my attention quickly, it is probably better to use Twitter. I’m on @AndrewSparrow.

Alternatively, you can email me at [email protected].

Leave a Comment