The Unite union’s general secretary, Sharon Graham, has accused the government of lying about the state of NHS strike negotiations and said no talks on pay were happening “at any level”.
Other unions, including Unison and the Royal College of Nursing (RCN), have said the government has not made any further moves towards ending industrial action since talks in early January.
On Sunday, Pat Cullen, the head of the RCN, made a last-ditch appeal before fresh nursing strikes this week, asking the prime minister, Rishi Sunak, to match offers made by the Welsh and Scottish governments, both of which have led to strikes being suspended.
Unite, which represents a smaller percentage of NHS staff, has not called off strikes and said the government was putting lives at risks from understaffing even on days when there were no strikes.
“It’s almost like there’s a strike in the NHS every single day; we’ve got 130,000 vacancies. So, we’re doing our very best to try and solve this dispute, but it’s going to take more than that. It’s going to take investment in the NHS also,” she said.
Graham, speaking on BBC One’s Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg programme, said the business secretary, Grant Shapps, was “actually lying” about minimum cover by ambulance workers, which she said was agreed on a trust-by-trust basis.
The government was also misleading the public on the extent of the talks to resolve the dispute. “In 30 years of negotiating, I’ve never seen such an abdication of responsibility in my entire life,” she said.
“Rishi Sunak is the CEO of UK plc. We are trying to sit down with him and do a negotiation. It’s very difficult to do a negotiation to solve a dispute like this if they won’t even come to the table.”
She said she could say “categorically that there have been no conversations on pay whatsoever with Rishi Sunak or Steven Barclay about this dispute in any way, shape, or form. They dance round their handbag, dance round the edges, but they will not talk about pay. And to me, that is an abdication of responsibility.”
Shapps had said he was concerned that the planned strike by ambulance staff on Monday would put lives at risk because of a lack of cooperation between striking workers and emergency cover by the armed forces.
“We have seen the situation where the Royal College of Nursing very responsibly before the strikes told the NHS, ‘This is where we are going to be striking,’ and they are able to put the emergency cover in place,” he told Sky.
“Unfortunately, we have been seeing a situation with the ambulance unions where they refuse to provide that information. That leaves the army, who are driving the back-ups here, in a very difficult position – a postcode lottery when it comes to having a heart attack or a stroke when there is a strike on.”