More than six out of 10 (61 percent) say unions representing staff in the ambulance, rail and fire sectors should be forced to guarantee basic services. The polling by Redfield & Wilton Strategies comes as health secretary Steve Barclay issued a new plea for this week’s planned strikes to be scrapped.
Thousands of nurses and ambulance workers are due to strike tomorrow (MON).
Nurses from the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) will walk out alongside GMB and Unite paramedics, call handlers, and other staff at ambulance trusts. Nurses will strike again on Tuesday, ambulance workers again on Friday, and physiotherapists on Thursday.
The poll found that although the public wants minimum standards of service guaranteed, they do not want workers who refuse to provide this to be sacked.
Only 29 percent wanted workers to lose their jobs, compared with 47 percent who did not.
The health secretary said: “It is regrettable that health unions are going ahead with strike action. NHS contingency plans are in place but these coordinated strikes will undoubtedly have an impact on patients and cause delays to NHS services.”
Defending the Government’s handling of the pay dispute, he said: “We accepted the recommendations of the independent pay review body to give over one million NHS workers, including nurses and ambulance workers, a pay rise of at least £1,400 this financial year, on top of an increase the previous year when wider public sector pay was frozen.
“I have been having constructive talks with unions about what is affordable for 2023-24, and urge them to call off the strikes and come back around the table.”
Writing in the Sunday Express, chief secretary to the Treasury John Glen argued that major pay increases risked making inflation worse.
Mr Glen said: “Yes, public sector workers would see a higher number on their payslips but this would be eroded by higher prices in shops.”
He warned that “even a one per cent rise costs £2.5billion”.
The Government is pushing through legislation through Parliament to enforce minimum service levels during strikes in areas including the NHS, transport, fire and rescue and education.
Pat Cullen, general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, said: “The irony is that the Government is introducing minimum levels when there is unsafe staffing on non-strike days. The Bill is a distraction from the real issues at the heart of our ongoing pay dispute…
“It is time the Prime Minister solved this crisis by getting round a negotiating table.”
She warned that unless pay talks started over the weekend, “73 NHS trusts in England will see strike action next week, up from 55 during January’s strike days and 44 in December”.
Sara Gorton of the Unison trade union insisted unions would always agree to provide “emergency cover during any action”.
She said: “Rishi Sunak and the chancellor could stop the strikes in an instant if they commit to a proper pay boost for staff. That would also be a big step in halting the workforce exodus, so patients can get the care they need.”
Right-leaning think tanks warned of the impact the strikes would have on healthcare.
Robert Colvile, director of the Center for Policy Studies, said the public sector wage bill “already accounts for roughly 22 percent of day to day government expenditure”.
He added: “The NHS is struggling to cope with demand in the aftermath of the pandemic and these strikes will inevitably add to waiting times, causing anxiety and potentially medical harm to patients waiting for diagnosis and treatment.”
Matthew Bowles of the Institute of Economic Affairs, said nurses’ pay could go up if Britain was prepared to make major changes to the way healthcare is delivered.
He said: “A change of healthcare system, to a Dutch-style social health insurance one for example, would most probably see their wages increase. A recent OECD report found that, taking into account the cost of living, UK nurses earn on average €16,000 less than their Dutch counterparts.”