Nadhim Zahawi has urged nurses to accept a lower pay rise to send a “very clear message” to Vladimir Putin, the Russian president.
Up to 100,000 nurses plan to walk out on Dec 15 and 20 as the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) demands an above-inflation pay rise of 19 per cent for its workers.
Mr Zahawi, the Conservative Party chairman, confirmed that the Government has contingency plans in place to minimise disruption across the public sector.
But he told unions it was time to “try and negotiate” and insisted soaring costs facing Britons this winter were predominantly because of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
“We have to come together, this is not a time to be divided,” he told Sky’s Sophie Ridge.
“I hope to send a very clear message to Mr Putin that he cannot use energy as a weapon in this way.
“And we will remain united which is why we’ve accepted the pay review bodies on the NHS, on schools and on others.”
Inflation matching pay rises are "unsustainable", says Conservative Party Chairman @NadhimZahawi, despite soaring cost of living.#Ridge: https://t.co/ZoMhCmTrtv
📺 Sky 501, Virgin 602, Freeview 233 and YouTube pic.twitter.com/gBVLnCWjXl
— Sophy Ridge on Sunday & The Take (@RidgeOnSunday) December 4, 2022
Mr Zahawi insisted that one million nurses would still receive a pay rise of at least £1,400, on top of a one per cent increase last year.
This is in line with the recommendations of the NHS Pay Review Body, which suggested an average rise of 4.75 per cent for nurses in England and Wales, with extra for the lowest paid.
Pressed by Times Radio on whether nurses would find his comments “offensive”, Mr Zahawi replied: “Well, all I would say is let’s all reflect and think about what Putin is doing. There is a price to pay for peace.
“And he's deliberately using energy as a weapon, which has made inflation so high.
“Putin wants us to be divided on this issue. If we chase inflation-busting or inflation-targeting public sector pay, then we will embed inflation for much longer and hurt the most vulnerable.”
On Sunday Wes Streeting, Labour's shadow health secretary, accused ministers of “spoiling for a fight with nurses” Christine Jardine, the Liberal Democrat Cabinet Office spokesman, claimed it was “ludicrous and insulting to suggest Vladimir Putin is responsible for nurses going on strike”.
On Saturday night, The Telegraph revealed pharmacists would be drafted in to help break strike action and ease winter pressures on the NHS under plans currently being considered.
Mr Zahawi emphasised the NHS would “look at all contingency planning” to ensure patients could get urgent treatment during walkouts and noted the Government’s duty to ensure safe treatment levels in the health service.
Ministers are braced for the cancellation of thousands of elective procedures and screening appointments, meaning chemists could be allowed to diagnose minor conditions and prescribe antibiotics for the first time.
Steve Barclay, the Health Secretary, wrote to striking unions on Saturday night urging them to protect accident and emergency services by maintaining minimum staffing levels.
Strikes are likely to proceed and continue into the new year if the 19 per cent pay rise demand is not met, despite some progress on issues including employee parking costs and emergency unit security.