Gove tears down Gillian Keegan over nurses in major cabinet rift

Nurses strike: RCN members at St Thomas’ Hospital in London

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A Cabinet rift has emerged this morning over nurses’ strikes, as Levelling Up Secretary Michael Gove criticised both Gillian Keegan and his predecessor Simon Clarke. Mr Gove shot down the language used by the two Conservative MPs, saying he would “never put it that way”. Last year, Education Secretary Gillian Keegan said many nurses needing to use food banks are doing so because of a broken “relationship or boiler”.

When asked whether she is comfortable with nurses now being forced to use food banks, Ms Keegan said: “Quite often when you go to food banks, something will have happened, you know, something will have broken down – either a relationship or boiler or anything.”

Meanwhile, Chief Secretary to the Treasury and former Levelling Up Secretary Simon Clarke earlier this week suggested that nurses are using foodbanks as a result of poor budgeting.

He said: “If you are using foodbanks and your average salary is £35,000 a year then something is wrong with your budgeting because £35,000 is not a salary on which you want to be relying on foodbanks.

“This debate has got out of hand, the average nurse’s salary is £35,000 and senior nurses earn up to about £47,000.”

When asked if he agreed with his cabinet colleagues, Mr Gove said: “No, I would never put it that way.

“I think we appreciate that nurses – everyone who is working on the front line in the National Health Service – is not only doing an amazing job and my thanks and gratitude today is something I want to express very deeply and personally.”

When pressed on the issue, with Sky’s Kay Burley asking if his cabinet colleagues are “wrong to criticise the way nurses manage their money?”, Mr Gove responded: “I would never criticise nurses for something like that.

“I think the most important thing to do is to recognise people who are working in the NHS are people who have dedicated their lives to supporting others and they are doing everything they can to support us.”

But Mr Gove also said it is important to “balance making sure that we do everything we can to reward them for their hard work” with “recognising that we also have to be careful stewards of public money overall.”

He added: “What we can’t do is concede to every demand in the public sector for pay increases.”

The RCN branded Simon Clarke’s comments “disgusting” and “out of touch”, with RCN officer Sarah Hughes saying they “bear no resemblance to the reality faced by nurses”.

Nurses are currently in the midst of their third round of industrial action, which began yesterday.

Nurses have been staging stoppages lasting up to 13 hours, from 7.30am until 8.30pm yesterday and today.

The industrial action is taking place at 55 NHS trusts across England.

The RCN has demanded a 19 percent pay rise – five percent above inflation.

But the demand has been dismissed as “unaffordable” by the Government.

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