Tory health minister condemns the nurses’ strike – while being an RCN member

An NHS rally with Maria Caulfield looking at it - representing the nurses' strike
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As the NHS nurses’ strike started its first day of action, the government sent out a Tory health minister to do the morning TV rounds. Conservative politicians and broadcast media aren’t always a good match – and sadly for minister Maria Caulfield, her status as a former nurse made the situation even worse. This was then compounded by the fact she’s also a member of the trade union organising the strikes.

The nurses’ strike: everybody out

The Royal College of Nurses (RCN) is staging two days of nurses’ strike action on 6 and 7 February. On the first day, ambulance staff are also striking, and some will then walk out again on Friday 10 February. As the Canary previously wrote, the RCN has said that it’s “escalating nursing strikes on 6 and 7 February after governments refuse to seriously negotiate”. RCN general secretary and chief executive Pat Cullen added:

It is with a heavy heart that nursing staff are striking [in January] and again in [February]

We are doing this in a desperate bid to get ministers to rescue the NHS. The only credible solution is to address the tens of thousands of unfilled jobs – patient care is suffering like never before.

My olive branch to governments – asking them to meet me halfway and begin negotiations – is still there. They should grab it.

So, the Tory government clearly thought that rolling out a health minister who’s a former nurse would be a good idea. Unfortunately for it (and her) it didn’t go quite according to plan.

A former NHS nurse defending the indefensible?

Caulfield is a parliamentary under secretary of state at the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) – a health minister. She’s not new to the DHSC, having been there under Boris Johnson. However, Caulfield is also a former nurse. As her website states:

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Upon leaving school she became an NHS nurse, later specialising in cancer treatment and becoming a Senior Sister at the Royal Marsden NHS Hospital.

Apparently, Caulfield’s inspiration to join the Tory Party was former prime minister and NHS budget-slasher David Cameron. Little wonder, then, that she was on breakfast TV on 6 February defending the indefensible. Good Morning Britain (GMB) host Ben Shephard put it to Caulfield that Cullen had said the government hadn’t met with the RCN over pay for this financial year – hence the nurses’ strike. Caulfield waffled and deflected for well over a minute, before GMB host Susanna Reid finally managed to get her to admit that Cullen was right:

Then over on BBC Radio 4‘s Today programme, Caulfield argued that the pay rise RCN wanted for nurses this year couldn’t happen – basically because ‘everybody else would want more money’. She said that a pay rise for this year:

wouldn’t just be for nurses, you would have teachers saying ‘could we reopen this year’s pay settlement’; you’ve got ambulance drivers, you’ve got rail workers. There’s a range of pubic sector workers who would also want the same request. Across the board, you’re talking about billions of pounds to pay for that, and we want to put that into frontline services… but we also are accountable to the taxpayer…

Heaven forbid that teachers, for some of whom governments have cut £6,600 off real-terms pay since 2010, would want a bit more money:

However, as one person pointed out on Twitter, there’s a £29.5bn elephant in the room that the Tories keep forgetting about, among other things:

Caulfield: gravy-training it all the way

But it was over on LBC where Caulfield’s true priorities were exposed – as the public was reminded that she’s still a member of the RCN:

As one person pointed out on Twitter:

It’s not unexpected that a nurse might not be left-wing – there are probably plenty of Tory-voting nurses. However, one who is also currently a member of a trade union that’s striking, putting herself out on TV to actively work against her colleagues? Now that’s something else entirely.

Caulfield has shown that she has no care for the NHS, nor the nurses’ strike and her profession more broadly. Staying on the Westminster gravy train is clearly more appealing to her.

Featured image via NHS Workers Say No and Sky News – YouTube

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