Nursing strikes to go ahead but Health Sec Barclay nowhere to be seen

What ARE you doing, Steve? Nursing strikes set to go ahead this winter… but Health Secretary Barclay is ‘nowhere to be seen’ as critics accuse him of being an ‘invisible man’

  • Mr Barclay is yet to comment publicly on potential NHS strike action this winter
  • Labour today accused him of being ‘negligent’ regarding the impact of strikes 
  • Comes as results of nursing union’s strike ballot is due to be announced today

Health Secretary Steve Barclay was today accused of being the ‘invisible man’ for his ongoing silence over potential strike action by NHS nurses. 

The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) is today expected to confirm that up to 300,000 of its members will walk off the job this winter. 

Mr Barclay, who is the fourth MP to hold the position in the last year, was reappointed to the role last month, but is yet to address the crisis.

This is despite dire warnings that it could lead to thousands of appointments being cancelled at a time of a record breaking care backlog.

It his second attempt at the job, having previously filled the post between July and September after Sajid Javid quit in a wave of resignations that led to the downfall of PM Boris Johnson. 

He replaced Thérèse Coffey, who kept the seat warm for a grand total of 49 days as part of the ill-fated Liz Truss administration.  

Labour’s Shadow Health Secretary Wes Streeting today accused Mr Barclay of being ‘the invisible man’.   

Health Secretary Steve Barclay has been accused of being the invisible man due to his lack of action on a looming NHS nurses strikes 

This graph shows the Royal College of Nursing’s demands for a 5 per cent above inflation pay rise for the bands covered by its membership which includes healthcare assistants and nurses. Estimates based on NHS Employers data

Mr Barclay is the fourth MP to hold the post of Health Secretary in the last year, having also previously filled the post between July and September after Sajid Javid quit. He has now replaced Thérèse Coffey, who kept the seat warm for a grand total of 49 days as part of the ill-fated Liz Truss administration. The longest serving Health Secretary in recent history is Matt Hancock who had an almost three year stint before resigning after footage of him emerged breaching social distancing guidelines by kissing a colleague

Mr Barclay went to Sandhurst military academy and served in the British Army before studying at the University of Cambridge. He has been the MP for North East Cambridgeshire since 2010.

He took on a series of junior frontbench roles where he became known as a hard-working, loyal and subservient minister.

Mr Barclay was promoted to the Cabinet in 2018 when Theresa May made him Brexit Secretary — a job he kept even when Mr Johnson took over, in a sign of his flexibility given their vastly different views on departing the EU.

He was demoted to No2 in the Treasury, during Mr Javid’s final days in No11, after his Brexit ministerial brief came to an end following the UK’s official departure from the EU. 

He moved back to the cabinet 18 months later as Cabinet Office minister.

This February, a hasty reshuffle after a string of scandals including Partygate saw him appointed Mr Johnson’s chief of staff, which he juggled with his cabinet role of chancellor of the duchy of Lancaster.

The appointment highlighted Mr Johnson’s faith in the former lawyer from Lancashire. 

The title used to be referred to as the most powerful unelected official in the UK and Mr Barclay was the first MP to hold the role.

He was part of a shake-up of No10 aimed at getting ‘grown ups’ in the room and stabilising his boss’s premiership, which ultimately failed after the Chris Pincher row.

His promotion to Health Secretary suggests Mr Johnson’s team do not necessarily blame him.

‘The NHS is going through the biggest crisis in its history and the Health Secretary is nowhere to be seen,’ he said. 

‘Our health service need leadership right now but instead it has the invisible man.’

With a potential mass walk-out by nurses this winter, Mr Streeting told MailOnline his counterpart was being ‘negligent’ regarding the strike action.

‘Nurses have balloted to take industrial action for the first time in their history, yet Steve Barclay hasn’t even bothered to pick up the phone to them or answer their requests for a meeting,’ he said. 

‘It is appalling negligence and it will be nurses and patients who pay the price.

‘If the Conservatives have given up on governing, they should step aside.’

The RCN, the union behind the potential mass walk-out of nurses this winter, has said strike action can be averted if Mr Barclay agrees to meet their demands on pay. 

But the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) has repeatedly refused to confirm if the Health Secretary himself is willing to meet with union officials to try and reach a resolution.

DHSC has instead insisted that it is engaging with unions at a ministerial level.  

‘We value the hard work of NHS staff including nurses, and are working hard to support them – including by giving over one million NHS workers a pay rise of at least £1,400 this year as recommended by the independent NHS Pay Review Body, on top of 3per cent last year when pay was frozen in the wider public sector,’ a spokesperson said. 

‘Industrial action is a matter for unions, and we urge them to carefully consider the potential impacts on patients.’

Labour has said it would pay to train a ‘new generation’ of doctors and nurses by abolishing the non-domicile tax status reaping funds from UK citizens who currently avoid paying full taxes in the UK by claiming they live, and pay tax, elsewhere.

Mr Barclay has been relatively silent since his appointment, at least compared to his fellow ministers who rose to power as part of Rishi Sunak’s reshuffle upon becoming PM.

He has, so far, issued one ministerial statement and visited a hospital to promote the winter flu and Covid vaccination programme. 

Mr Barclay may be a bit media shy following the most memorable event in his previous stint as Health Secretary.

Earlier this year he was famously accosted by a member of the public outside a hospital who accused him of doing ‘bugger all’ about the ambulance crisis, which has seen patients wait up to 40 hours to be transported to hospital. 

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