The Health Secretary said it was “disappointing” nurses had voted to strike, as he said their demands were “out of step” with the economic situation faced by the UK.
Steve Barclay warned that the industrial action would lead to delayed care for patients, after the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) announced on Wednesday that nurses had voted to strike in the majority of NHS employers in a row over pay.
Insisting that his “door is open” for talks, he said that it needed to be recognised that “these are economically challenging times”.
“We need a strong economy in order to pay for a strong healthcare system,” he told broadcasters.
The pay demand by the RCN he said is “is out of step with the economic circumstances that we face”, as he defended the Tories’ record on the NHS as he said his party was committed to the manifesto pledge of building 40 new hospitals.
Mr Barclay, who has been Health Secretary for a matter of weeks, earlier tweeted: “It is disappointing some RCN members voted for industrial action.
“We accepted the recommendations of the independent NHS Pay Review Body in full and have given over one million NHS workers a pay rise of at least £1,400 this year on top of a 3% rise last year.”
In a series of tweets, he said that trade union demands were not “reasonable or affordable”, as he warned that the action would mean delays to care.
“Regrettably, this action will mean some patients will have their treatment delayed,” he said.
“My priority is to keep patients safe during any strikes, minimise disruption and ensure emergency services continue to operate.”
In the lead up to ballot results, the Government said it had contingency plans for dealing with any industrial action by nurses.
Shadow health secretary Wes Streeting accused the Government of “unacceptable negligence” after nurses voted to strike.
The Labour MP said: “There were no strikes in the NHS during 13 years when Labour was last in Government. If we were in office today, we would be talking with the RCN and doing everything we can to prevent these strikes going ahead.
“Government ministers spent the summer dodging calls and requests for meetings from the Royal College of Nursing. It is unacceptable negligence.
“The Conservatives have stopped governing and it is nurses and patients who will be made to pay the price.”
Appearing on BBC Radio 4’s PM programme, Mr Streeting said he could not guarantee he would offer the pay hike sought by nurses because the Tories have “crashed the economy”.
He said: “I think given the constraints on the public finances after the Conservatives crashed the economy, I can’t say that I would be able to offer that pay settlement today.
“What I could say, in stark contrast to the Secretary of State for Health and his predecessors, is that I would not only get the unions around the table today to negotiate, I would have been doing it for months.”