Shadow health secretary Wes Streeting has branded the Government’s approach to the NHS pay dispute “disgusting”.
The Labour frontbencher accused ministers of “spoiling for a fight” and a “betrayal of patients” by refusing to properly engage with unions.
Mr Streeting made the comments during a visit with Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer to Lister Hospital in Stevenage, Hertfordshire, where they met with doctors and nurses to hear about the pressures the health service is facing.
“Frankly, the nurses are offering to negotiate … the door is open and for the Government to refuse to sit down and talk for even a minute of negotiations, knowing that doing so will avert strike action, is deeply irresponsible.
“If patients suffer disruption this week, as they will if strikes go ahead, they will know it’s Conservative ministers to blame, not the nurses.”
He added: “Steve Barclay’s, the Health Secretary’s, reaction to the strike has been a complete joke.”
However, the shadow health secretary doubled down on his own accusations that a health union has made “unreasonable” complaints about Labour’s NHS plans.
He added: “I think the British Medical Association have made a number of unreasonable criticisms of Labour’s expectations for patients.
“I know that people are struggling to get GP appointments because there aren’t enough GPs. That’s why I pledge to recruit more doctors than ever before.
“But when we do deliver those doctors, we will expect better standards, more access for patients, and I think that’s reasonable.”
It comes after the Sunday Telegraph quoted the Labour frontbencher as saying the union was “living on a different planet” and being “hostile” towards the idea of improved standards alongside an expansion of the health service.
The BMA responded by saying his comments were “incredibly disappointing” and would leave staff “extremely concerned” about Labour’s approach towards a pay settlement.
He confirmed Labour would not be able to meet the unions’ demand for a 19% pay rise but would be willing to negotiate.
“If the Government was willing to talk this week, there would be no strikes this week, and so if the strikes go ahead with all of the disruption we know patients will suffer, patients will be blaming Conservative ministers, not the poor nurses who just want a fair hearing.”
The Labour frontbencher added: “I think their concerns are reasonable. I’ve got to be honest, Labour wouldn’t be able to pay the 19% they’re asking for, but we would be willing to negotiate and try and reach a figure that everyone could agree on. Why wouldn’t the Government do that?”
He said: “I think the Government’s stubborn refusal to engage in serious negotiations shows they are spoiling for a fight.
“They want to blame nurses, blame paramedics, blame NHS staff for challenges in the National Health Service which are the direct fault and responsibility of 12 years of Conservative mismanagement – frankly, I think it’s disgusting.”