Union accuses Steve Barclay of trying to 'wear down nurses' in court

Royal College of Nursing accuses Health Secretary Steve Barclay of trying to ‘wear down nurses’ ahead of landmark High Court showdown over legality of 48-hour bank holiday strike

  • If Government is successful part of the upcoming nurses’ strike will be called off 
  • Read more: Civil servants hit Health Secretary Steve Barclay with bullying claims

Health Secretary Steve Barclay is trying to ‘undermine’ and ‘wear down’ nurses, according to the union ahead of today’s High Court showdown.

The head of the Royal College of Nursing (RCN), Pat Cullen, also said the union ‘suspects’ that Mr Barclay invited NHS Employers, who initially wrote to him asking him to take legal action, to do so.

These explosive claims were made in Ms Cullen’s witness statement to the court, which was published last night.

Mr Barclay is taking the union to court to declare the May 2 portion of their planned 48-hour strike unlawful.

RCN nurses are planning to walk off their NHS jobs and take to picket lines from 8pm on April 30 in a strike where they will withdraw ‘life and limb’ care for the first time. 

RCN members protesting at outside the High Court as the Government attempts to have their strike on May 2 declared illegal

 Health Secretary Steve Barclay has been accused by union officials of bullying nurses, as claims also emerge that his managerial style has upset staff in his own office

In a witness statement Pat Cullen accused Mr Barclay of trying to ‘undermine’ and ‘wear down’ nurses through the courts

For the first time in the increasingly bitter dispute there are no agreed exceptions to the industrial action meaning nurses will walk off intensive care and emergency departments for the first time. 

In her witness statement MS Cullen said the Government seeking to stop the May 2 strike was politically motivated.

‘This application is part of a clear strategy by the Secretary of State to undermine the RCN and wear down its members in the industrial dispute,’ she wrote. 

She added the union also suspects Mr Barclay invited NHS Employers, a body that represented the providers of NHS services in England, to ask him to act.

‘Indeed, RCN suspects that the letter from NHS Employers was specifically invited by the Secretary of State for self-serving reasons in order to avoid any dispute about his standing to seek the declaratory relief sought,’ she said.  

Read more: Civil servants hit Health Secretary Steve Barclay with bullying allegations… just days after Dominic Raab was forced to step down as Justice Secretary

Mr Barclay has said NHS Employers had contacted him asking him to check the legality of the action because the organisation believes the strike mandate runs out on May 1.

He said: ‘Following a request from NHS Employers I am regretfully applying to the High Court to declare the Royal College of Nursing’s planned strike action on 2 May unlawful.

‘Despite attempts by my officials to resolve the situation over the weekend, I have been left with no choice but to proceed with legal action.

‘I firmly support the right to take industrial action within the law, but the Government cannot stand by and let a plainly unlawful strike action go ahead nor ignore the request of NHS Employers.

‘We must also protect nurses by ensuring they are not asked to take part in an unlawful strike.’

By law unions in England must hold strike action six months after their ballot.

The RCN ballot on pay, which launched a wave of historic strike action by the union, closed on November 2.

The Government therefore argues that the last legal day of strike action is May 1.

However, the RCN is arguing that the six months period for strike action starts the day after the ballot closes making the May 2 strike lawful.

Nurses are expected to be protesting outside the High Court today with Ms Cullen vowing   to ‘stand up’ to Government ‘bullies’ in court.

However, she has confirmed members will not be asked to strike on May 2 if the court rules in the Government’s favour.

She said in a message to members: ‘The only way to deal with bullies is to stand up to them – including in court.

More than 500,000 NHS appointments and operations in England have been cancelled as a result of staff striking over pay, with further disruption planned 

Read more: Midwives vote to accept NHS pay offer with 57% in favour and 43% rejecting it 

Midwives have voted to accept the latest NHS pay offer, the Royal College of Midwives (RCM) has announced

‘The court will decide whether to support this Government’s use of draconian anti-trade union legislation.

‘If the Government succeeds in silencing members like you and convinces the court to stop part of our strike, then we’ll have no choice but to cut it short.

‘Our strike action has always been safe and legal. We would never ask our members to do anything unsafe or against your professional code.

‘It’s so wrong for the Government to use taxpayers’ money to drag our profession through the courts.

‘We’re determined to show that the nursing profession is strong and determined and defend our members’ right to strike.”

Ms Cullen has urged ministers to resume negotiations after RCN members rejected a 5 per cent pay offer.

The deal, which included a one-off bonus us of up to £3,789, was recommended by union leadership, but was narrowly rejected. 

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has also now waded into the row.

Speaking to ITV’s Good Morning Britain, Sir Keir said: ‘What’s happened in the nurses’ case is really instructive, because actually the union recommended the deal and the nurses themselves rejected it.

‘That tells you just how angry the nurses are, because that’s quite unusual.’

Accusations of that Mr Barclay is bullying the nursing profession come as the minister faces accusations that he is a bully in his own office. 

He was accused of ‘bad behaviour’ towards staff in the Department of Health and Social Care since being appointed last summer.

The Guardian said officials had ‘raised concerns’, with civil servants complaining informally to Chris Wormald, the department’s permanent secretary.

But allies and ex-colleagues of Mr Barclay denied the allegations and suggested civil servants may now feel ’emboldened’ to ‘go after’ ministers they did not like.

It comes after Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab quit when a probe found he had upset staff. 

The RCN’s planned strike action is causing alarm among health leaders who fear plans to withdraw so-called ‘life and limb’ care could put patients at risk over the Bank Holiday weekend. 

Previous walk-outs by nursing staff saw exemptions put in place in areas where timely treatment of patients is vital, including in A&E, intensive care, mental health and cancer services.

None of these will apply for the upcoming strikes.  

The past six months of industrial action by several NHS health unions, including the RCN, has seen over half a million operations and appointments postponed. 

In other NHS union news, midwives voted to accept the latest NHS pay offer despite it not being ‘perfect’, the Royal College of Midwives (RCM) has announced.

In a turnout of 48 per cent of eligible members working in the NHS in England, 57 per cent voted to accept the deal, with 43 per cent rejecting it.

Alice Sorby, director of employment relations at the RCM, said: ‘The offer was not perfect, and it was not everything we asked for or that midwives and maternity support workers deserve.

‘However, it was a step forward from the Government’s entrenched position on 2022/23 pay and improved on its directions to the Pay Review Body for 2023/24.

‘It was the power of the collective unions standing together, with our members behind us, that brought the Government to the table and led to this improved offer.’ 

Another strike, this time by teachers, is already causing massive disruption today for thousands of pupils.

Tens of thousands of teachers launched another wave of industrial action over pay just weeks before GCSE and A-Level exams – with most schools expected to either restrict access to classrooms or shut them completely.

The action, by embers of the National Education Union (NEU) saw picket lines were mounted outside schools around the country, and a number of rallies are due to be held.

Many secondary schools are expected to prioritise Year 11 and Year 13 students during the strikes, as GCSE and A-level exams are weeks away. 

The NEU said it will support arrangements during the strikes that ‘provide the minimum level of teaching staff needed’ so GCSE and A-level students can attend school for revision activities or exam practice.

Where will nurses strike on April 30? 

The RCN has said the 48-hour, no exceptions walkout will be held at the following NHS workplaces in England.:

East Midlands 

Derbyshire Community Health Services NHS Foundation Trust 

Derbyshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust 

East Midlands Ambulance Service NHS Trust 

Kettering General Hospital NHS Foundation Trust 

NHS Derby and Derbyshire ICB 

NHS Nottingham and Nottinghamshire ICB 

Northamptonshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust 

Nottingham University Hospitals NHS Trust 

Nottinghamshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust 


Cambridge University Hospital NHS Foundation Trust 

Cambridgeshire and Peterborough NHS Foundation Trust 

Cambridgeshire Community Services NHS Trust 

East Suffolk and North Essex NHS Foundation Trust 

Hertfordshire Community NHS Trust 

NHS Hertfordshire and West Essex ICB 

NHS Mid and South Essex ICB 

NHS Norfolk and Waveney ICB 

NHS Suffolk and North East Essex ICB 

Norfolk and Norwich University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust 

Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust 

Norfolk Community Health and Care 

NHS Trust Royal Papworth Hospital NHS Foundation Trust 

West Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust 


Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children NHS Foundation Trust

Guys and St Thomas NHS Foundation Trust 

Hounslow and Richmond Community Healthcare NHS Trust 

Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust 

Kings College Hospital NHS Foundation Trust 

NHS North Central London ICB 

NHS South West London ICB 

Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust 

St George’s University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust 

Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust 

University College London Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust 

North West 

Alder Hey Children’s NHS Foundation Trust 

Bridgewater Community Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust 

Cheshire and Wirral Partnership NHS Foundation Trust 

Countess of Chester Hospital NHS Foundation Trust 

Lancashire Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust 

Liverpool Heart and Chest Hospital NHS Foundation Trust 

Liverpool University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust 

Liverpool Women’s NHS Foundation Trust 

Mersey Care NHS Foundation Trust 

Mid Cheshire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust 

NHS Cheshire and Merseyside ICB 

NHS Lancashire and South Cumbria ICB 

North West Ambulance Service NHS Trust 

St Helens and Knowsley Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust 

Tameside and Glossop Integrated Care NHS Foundation Trust 

The Christie NHS Foundation Trust 

The Clatterbridge Cancer Centre NHS Foundation Trust 

The Walton Centre NHS Foundation Trust 

Wirral Community Health and Care NHS Foundation Trust 

Wirral University Teaching Hospital NHS Foundation Trust 

Wrightington Wigan and Leigh NHS Foundation Trust 


Country Durham and Darlington NHS Foundation Trust 

Gateshead NHS Foundation Trust 

North of England Commissioning Support (NECS) 

North East Ambulance Service NHS Trust 

Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust 

South Tees Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust 

The Newcastle Upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust 

University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay NHS Foundation Trust 

South East 

East Sussex Healthcare NHS Trust 

Kent Community Health NHS Foundation Trust 

NHS Kent and Medway ICB 

NHS Surrey Heartlands ICB 

Queen Victoria Hospital NHS Foundation Trust 

South East Coast Ambulance Service 

Sussex Community NHS Foundation Trust 

Sussex Partnership NHS Foundation Trust 

University Hospitals Sussex NHS Foundation Trust 

Oxford Health NHS Foundation Trust 

Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust 

Portsmouth Hospitals NHS Trust 

Royal Berkshire NHS Foundation Trust 

Solent NHS Trust 

South Central Ambulance Services NHS Foundation Trust 

Southern Health NHS Foundation Trust 

University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation Trust 

South West 

Avon and Wiltshire Mental Health Partnership NHS Trust 

Cornwall Partnership NHS Foundation Trust 

Devon Partnership NHS Trust 

Dorset County Hospital NHS Foundation Trust 

Dorset Healthcare University NHS Foundation Trust 

Gloucestershire Health and Care NHS Foundation Trust 

Gloucestershire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust 

Great Western Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust 

NHS Bath, North East Somerset, Swindon and Wiltshire ICB 

NHS Devon ICB (One Devon) 

NHS Dorset ICB (One Dorset) 

NHS Gloucestershire ICB (One Gloucestershire) 

North Bristol NHS Trust 

Royal Cornwall Hospitals NHS Trust 

Royal Devon University Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust 

Royal United Hospitals Bath NHS Foundation Trust 

Salisbury NHS Foundation Trust 

Somerset NHS Foundation Trust 

South Western Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust 

Torbay and South Devon NHS Foundation Trust 

University Hospitals Bristol and Weston NHS Foundation Trust 

University Hospitals Dorset NHS Foundation Trust 

University Hospitals Plymouth NHS Trust 

West Midlands 

Birmingham Women’s and Children’s NHS Foundation Trust

Dudley Integrated Health and Care NHS Trust 

Herefordshire and Worcestershire Health and Care NHS Trust 

Midlands and Lancashire CSU 

Midlands Partnership NHS Foundation Trust 

NHS Birmingham and Solihull ICB (BSol ICB) 

NHS Black Country ICB 

Robert Jones and Agnes Hunt Orthopaedic Hospital NHS Foundation Trust

Shropshire Community Health NHS Trust 

The Royal Orthopaedic Hospital NHS Foundation Trust 

University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust 

Worcestershire Acute Hospitals NHS Trust 

Yorkshire and the Humber 

Barnsley Hospital NHS Foundation Trust 

Bradford Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust 

Harrogate and District NHS Foundation Trust 

Leeds Community Healthcare NHS Trust 

NHS North West Yorkshire ICB 

Sheffield Children’s NHS Foundation Trust 

Sheffield Health and Social Care NHS Foundation Trust 

Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust 

The Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust 

York and Scarborough Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust 

National employers 

Health Education England 

NHS Blood and Transplant 

NHS England NHS Resolution 

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