Rishi Sunak demands Labour’s Keir Starmer backs anti-strike laws ahead of looming de-facto general strike in heated PMQs clash over the NHS – as a minister admits industrial action has already cost government more than £1billion

  • Party leaders clashed over the NHS performance at Prime Minister’s Questions 
  • Thousands of nurses across England on strike today in a bitter pay dispute
  • De-facto general strike by hundreds of thousands of workers on February 1
  • Mr Sunak is planning to bring in a new law to enforce ‘minimum service levels’ 

Rishi Sunak attacked Sir Keir Starmer over Labour’s refusal to back new anti-strike laws today as the PM was accused of overseeing ‘lethal chaos’ in the health service.

The two party leaders clashed in a Prime Minister’s Questions session dominated by a row over ambulance waiting times and industrial action by medics.

It came as thousands of nurses across England went on strike in a bitter pay dispute with the Government, ahead of a looming de-facto general strike by hundreds of thousands of workers on February 1.

Rail workers, teachers and civil servants are also planning to coordinate walkouts next month, forcing much of Britain to stay at home. 

Mr Sunak is planning to bring in a new law to enforce ‘minimum service levels’ for blue-light services, on public safety grounds.

Meanwhile one of his ministers this morning conceded that rail strikes have cost the taxpayer more than £1billion. Rail minister Huw Merriman told MPs the Government has lost more money due to industrial action in the sector than it would have cost to settle the disputes several months ago. 


The two party leaders clashed in a Prime Minister’s Questions session dominated by a row over ambulance waiting times and industrial action by medics.

It came as thousands of nurses across England went on strike in a bitter pay dispute with the Government, ahead of a looming de-facto general strike by hundreds of thousands of workers on February 1.

Rail union boss admits striking train drivers have seen pay soar by 17 PER CENT in real terms since 2009… after turning down offer that would have taken average salaries to £65k 

Britain will be forced to grind to a halt next month as co-ordinated strike action will see hundreds of thousands of train drivers, teachers, airport staff and civil servants walk out of their jobs.

On February 1, travel chaos and pandemic-style remote learning for students will return due to the major industrial action over pay from a number of unions.

The date has been dubbed as a national ‘protect the right to strike’ day by unions, in response to the government’s planned law on minimum service levels.

On Monday, MPs voted for a bill that could see workers fired if they refuse to work during a strike. 

Sir Keir pressed the Prime Minister on ambulance waiting times in a packed House of Commons. 

He called on the Prime Minister to put himself in the place of a heart attack victim waiting for help.

He said: ‘By 1pm our heart attack victim is in a bad way, sweaty, dizzy, chest tightening … by that time they should be getting treatment, but an hour after they’ve called 999 they’re still lying there, waiting, listening to the clock tick.

‘How does he think they feel knowing an ambulance could be still hours away?

Mr Sunak insisted the Government was taking ‘very practical steps that will make a difference in short term’.

He replied: ‘The specific and practical things we are doing to improve ambulance times are clear. We are investing more in urgent and emergency care to create more bed capacity, we are ensuring that the flow of patients through emergency care is faster than it ever has been.

‘We are discharging people at a record rate out of hospitals to ease the constraints that they are facing and we are reducing the callout rates by moving people out of ambulance stacks and being dealt with in the community. Now, these are all very practical steps that will make a difference in short term.

‘But I ask him again and again, and we know why, the reason that he is not putting patients first when it comes to ambulance waiting times is because he is simply in the pockets of his union paymasters.’

Nursing staff from more than 55 NHS trusts are manning pickets today and tomorrow following their first ever strike in December.

The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) has announced that two further, bigger strikes will be held next month, while the GMB union is expected to announce further ambulance worker strike dates on Wednesday afternoon.

The NHS is reminding patients to attend all their usual appointments unless they have been contacted, and to seek urgent care if needed during the strikes.

NHS England said patients should use services ‘wisely’ by going to NHS 111 online but continuing to call 999 in a life-threatening emergency.

Thousands of operations and appointments are expected to be cancelled during the two consecutive days of strike action. Almost 30,000 needed to be rescheduled following December’s nurse strikes.

The health service is likely to run a bank holiday-style service in many areas.

The RCN has agreed to staff chemotherapy, emergency cancer services, dialysis, critical care units, neonatal and paediatric intensive care.

Some areas of mental health and learning disability and autism services are also exempt from the strike, while trusts will be told they can request staffing for specific clinical needs.

When it comes to adult A&E and urgent care, nurses will work Christmas Day-style rotas.

Earlier Mr Merriman was grilled by Transport Select Committee member Ben Bradshaw about whether ‘we’re talking of a cost to the Government of over a billion (pounds) so far’.

He went on to ask: ‘That would easily be enough money to have solved this dispute months ago, wouldn’t it?’

The minister replied: ‘If you look at it in that particular lens, then absolutely, it’s actually ended up costing more than would have been the case if it was just settled in that part.

‘But, again, we have to look at the overall impact on the public sector pay deals that are going across, and we also have to look on the ability for the reforms that don’t often get talked about, but they’re absolutely vital as part of the package.

‘It’s the reforms that will actually pay for these pay deals and also make the railway more efficient in the long run as well.’

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