Pat Cullen the general secretary of Britain’s nurses’ union ,has accused the health secretary, Steve Barclay, of being a “bullyboy” who is unwilling to negotiate with her because she is a woman representing a largely female workforce. She said the government was displaying “particularly macho” behaviour towards the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) because she believes it sees nursing as “female work” that it does not value properly. She criticised ministers for portraying nurses as “greedy”.
“The more I think about it … I’m a woman negotiating for a 90% female profession that is trying to operate with a government that’s particularly macho and tends to operate with a bullyboy tactic. Perhaps that’s the reason why we can’t get moving forward. By refusing to negotiate Steve Barclay is ignoring nurses and ignoring me. I think there’s an issue here with us being female. I ask myself, would that [refusal to negotiate] be different if it was a 90% male profession and I was a male? I truly believe it would be. I think we’d be treated differently,” said Cullen, whose union represents 500,000 nurses across the UK.
She added: “And that links back to the value of caring and it being female work. Nurses showed the importance of care during the pandemic, the importance of being with a patient at their real hour of need, the importance of being there to hold their hand and see them leave this world and say: ‘It’s OK, we’ll be here.’ That’s all perceived by those people, by those men, as female jobs, female work, and that they can treat us like that.”
Barclay was treating nurses “with contempt and disrespect”, she said.
Tens of thousands of nurses across England, Wales and Northern Ireland are due to stop work on 15 and 20 December in the profession’s first-ever NHS-wide strike action. Ambulance staff, teachers, university lecturers and Border Force officials are among the many groups of workers who intend to strike over the coming weeks.
Cullin warned nurses could keep staging stoppages at hospitals and other places of NHS care for the next six months in their pursuit of a “fair and decent” pay rise. However, she also suggested the RCN would ditch its demand for a 5% above-inflation increase if the health secretary abandoned his refusal to begin meaningful talks.
Unnamed senior NHS managers have told the Health Service Journal that they regard the health secretary as “a real nightmare, vindictive, arrogant, a bully and hostile to the NHS”.
More than 1.3 million workers intend to strike sometime in December. Royal Mail postal workers have begun strikes as have the long on-going rail workers strikes.
Meanwhile, Rishi Sunak has been condemned for using “disingenuous” figures after he repeated a claim that meeting union demands for public sector pay awards would cost every household £1,000 extra a year. The £1,000 figure, used by several ministers in recent days, is based on a government estimate that meeting an 11% pay rise for all public sector staff would cost a total of £28bn, spread around 28 million UK households.
The calculation has been called into question, however, given that not every part of the public sector is striking, and that awards recommended by pay review bodies and accepted by ministers average about 5% anyway.