“Where’s Rishi Sunak?” War of words erupts between unions and ministers over NHS strikes

Unite general secretary Sharon Graham condemned the prime minister.

Unite general secretary Sharon Graham condemned the prime minister.

Unite general secretary Sharon Graham condemned the prime minister.

Rishi Sunak has been accused of being “missing” as a furious war of words broke out over the ongoing NHS strikes.

Unite general secretary Sharon Graham accused the prime minister of “abdicating leadership” when paramedics followed nurses taking the picket lines.

Her comments came after Health Secretary Steve Barclay accused the unions of making a “conscious choice” to “harm” patients.

Both the Prime Minister and Barclay have insisted they will not make a better wage offer to end the union action.

On a picket in Coventry, Sharon Graham said: “Every time the health secretary speaks I have my head in my hands because I don’t think he knows what he’s talking about.

“What the government needs to do is come to the table and negotiate. We have been asking them for weeks and weeks and weeks to do this.”

Graham also denied the government’s claims that ambulance workers have not given any guarantees that they will provide emergency cover if they are on strike, endangering the public.

She said: “This is squarely on the doorstep of the government. I don’t know where Rishi Sunak is. Where is he? He appears to be missing.

“He needs to come to the table and negotiate. In the 25 years of negotiations that I’ve been conducting, I’ve never seen such a distance from leadership as with this Prime Minister.

“He has to come to the table, negotiate so that these people get their raises and they can go back to work.”

On BBC Breakfast, Barclay denied that his use of language “staged this current vibe”.

He said: “No, it reflects the very different action we’ve seen from these unions – the GMB, Unite and Unison – compared to what we saw from the Royal College of Nursing (RCN), where we agreed national exemptions in terms of what would be covered by the RCN, while the three unions that went on strike today have refused to cooperate with us on a national level.”

But Rachel Harrison, the GMB’s national secretary, accused the minister of “insulting” paramedics.

She said: “They have not taken the decision to strike lightly.

“They feel they have been forced into this position because the government has not listened to them year after year.”

Asked if there would be harm to patients as a result of the strike, Harrison said: “The sad reality is patients are being harmed every day, and that’s when we don’t strike.”

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