The audience for this Thursday’s Question Time erupted in laughter following host Fiona Bruce’s retort to a panellist’s words. Health minister Will Quince told the BBC audience he “regularly” meets with unions, to which Ms Bruce responded: “What, to talk about pay?”
This discussion is following the second day of the nursing strike, with more industrial action planned for next month.
Both nursing staff and ambulance staff in England and Wales will stage a joint strike on February 6 as disputes over pay rumble on.
Addressing audience concerns on the BBC’s flagship political programme, Mr Quince said: “Retention is as important as recruitment and we’ve got to ensure that we keep the best nurses in the profession.”
Ms Bruce put him on the spot asking how he intended to do this, to which Mr Quince responded with statistics that the UK has over 10,500 more nurses than this time last year.
However Ms Bruce countered that there are still fewer doctors and fewer nurses, with an audience member chipping in that there still “50,000 vacancies”.
Mr Quince added: “I want the NHS to be the best place to work in the world, so I regularly meet with unions and others, and I know it’s not just about salary.”
Host Ms Bruce quipped: “What, to talk about pay?”, which drew laughter from the audience.
The health minister tried to continue: “I know salary is important but working conditions, working environments are too.
“I’ll continue those conversations but we’ve commissioned NHS England to undertake and publish a long-term NHS workforce plan, setting out five, ten, 15 years.
“We’ve got 72,000 nurses in training [but] we’ve got to look to the future, and that workforce plan which the Chancellor set out is going to be independently verified.
“So we can plan for the future.”
Ahead of the combined February strike day hospitals said non-urgent operations would have to be cancelled, as emergency departments cope with a severe lack of staff.
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Saffron Cordery, the interim chief executive of NHS Providers, said: “Trusts have been warning for months that coordinated strikes were a possibility if the government and unions failed to reach an early agreement on this year’s pay award.
“The prospect of ambulance workers and nurses striking on the same day is a huge concern. It could be the biggest day of industrial action the NHS has ever seen.
“We need ministers to get round the table with the unions urgently to deal with the key issue of pay for this financial year, otherwise there is no light at the end of the tunnel.”