Nurses’ strike is ‘badge of shame’ for ministers, Starmer tells Sunak

Labour leader accuses PM of putting political considerations above patient safety by refusing to discuss pay rises

Nurses going on strike this week in England, Wales and Northern Ireland should be seen as “a badge of shame” for the government, Keir Starmer has said, as he accused Rishi Sunak at prime minister’s questions of putting political considerations above patient safety.

With the initial scheduled strike by the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) and Unison due to begin on Thursday, Starmer grilled Sunak on the government’s refusal to discuss a more generous potential pay offer, which the RCN had said would mean the strikes would be paused.

“Tomorrow will be the first ever nationwide nurses’ strike,” the Labour leader told the Commons. “All the prime minister has to do to stop that is to open the door and discuss pay with them. If he did, the whole country would breathe a sigh of relief. Why won’t he?”

Sunak said ministers had “consistently spoken to all the unions involved in all the pay disputes”, and that a 3% rise amid a public sector pay freeze last year showed they “continue to back our nurses”.


Starmer replied: “Nurses going on strike is a badge of shame for this government. Instead of showing leadership, he’s playing games with people’s health. And there is a human cost.”

Citing the example of a boy in Chester called Alex who remains off school and in pain because an operation had been cancelled twice, Starmer said Alex’s mother had been “massively relieved” when the RCN offered to pause the strike, and was “desperate for the prime minister to resolve this”.

Starmer continued: “She doesn’t want to hear him blaming everybody else. She doesn’t want his usual ducking of the question. She’s tuned in now because she wants him to explain: what is he going to do to resolve the nursing strike?”

Sunak responded by avoiding the question, instead accusing Starmer of confecting “a political formula for avoiding taking a position on this issue”. The Labour leader was “not strong enough to stand up to the unions”, the prime minister added.

Starmer responded: “Action speaks volumes. As ever with this prime minister, it’s Tory politics first, patients second. We’ve never seen a nurses’ strike like this before. They’ve been forced into it because the government has broken the health system.”

In a repeat of recent attacks on Sunak’s wealth, Starmer asked him why he would not end non-domiciled tax status for overseas nationals in the UK – as used by Sunak’s wife – and noted that most people could not afford same-day private doctor appointments, which Sunak uses.

Starmer said: “After 12 years of Tory failure, winter has arrived for our public services. And we’ve got a prime minister who has curled up in a ball and gone into hibernation.

“If he can’t act on behalf of patients, or nurses or everyone who wants these strikes called off, then surely the whole country’s entitled to ask: what is the point of him and what is the point of the government he is supposed to be leading?”

Repeating a tactic he used at last week’s PMQs , Starmer negated Sunak’s chances of ending the pair’s exchanges with a rousing partisan attack by using his final question to focus on a deeply serious subject.

While last week Starmer asked about the strep A outbreak among children, this time he praised Commons staff and asked Sunak to join him in thinking of people in Ukraine living without power and heat amid the Russian invasion.


Peter Walker Political correspondent

The GuardianTramp

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