On 26th April 2023, the House of Lords debated amendments to the Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Bill. The Bishop of Guildford, on behalf of the Bishop of London, spoke in support of an amendment to the bill tabled by Baroness O’Grady of Upper Holloway that “would prevent failure to comply with a work notice from being regarded as a breach of contract or constituting lawful grounds for dismissal or any other detriment.”
The Lord Bishop of Guildford: My Lords, I will speak in support of Amendment 4, to which my friend the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London has signed her name. Bishop Sarah sends her apologies that she cannot be here, but we both strongly support the amendment, not least given reports that many important voices across the healthcare world, including the Royal College of Nursing and NHS Providers, are similarly supportive.
On 23rd March 2023, the House of Lords debated the Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Bill in its second day of committee. The Bishop of Manchester spoke in the debate, in support of numerous amendments:
Amendments 20 & 40, that would require reviews of how the legislation would affect recruitment and of the meaning of minimum service levels
Amendment 21, which would seek to ensure that work notices are only issued where all options to avert a strike are exhausted
Amendment 41, which would preserve existing protections from unfair dismissal, including for an employee who participates in a strike contrary to a work notice under the bill
Amendments 37 & 43, which would allow for parliamentary scrutiny of sections of the bill, and remove the ability for the Secretary of State to make regulations that repeal primary legislation and would make all regulations made under this section subject to the affirmative procedure
Amendments 20 & 40:
The Lord Bishop of Manchester: My Lords, I am sorry to come into the debate quite late; I had not realised we were getting so close to the end. I support Amendment 20 from the noble Lord, Lord Collins, and Amendment 40 from the noble Lord, Lord Fox. I regret that I have been unable to be in my seat at earlier stages, but I am grateful that my right reverend friends the Bishops of London and St Edmundsbury and Ipswich have passed on my concerns. Amendments 20 and 40 are absolutely invaluable. If this Bill is—regrettably, in my view—to become law, it must have all necessary consultation and evidence gathering before it.
The Bishop of London tabled a question for short debate on 3rd November 2022, concerning ambulance handovers in light of an upcoming strike:
The Lord Bishop of London: To ask His Majesty’s Government what progress they are making on ensuring swift ambulance handovers, as set out in Our Plan for Patients, published on 22 September, given the decision of ambulance workers across 11 trusts to ballot for strike action.
My Lords, I start by saying how grateful I am to your Lordships’ House for setting time aside for what I think is an important and timely debate. I am also grateful for the briefing from the House of Lords Library.
Last week, the GMB union announced that it was balloting ambulance workers over strike action across 11 trusts in what would be the biggest ambulance workers’ strike for 30 years. I think it would be wise to ask ourselves what has happened across the whole system to bring us to this point. Ambulance handover delays are an increasing issue across the trusts in England. The NHS contract for this year sets out that 90% of handovers should take place within 30 minutes and 65% within 15. However, the Association of Ambulance Chief Executives notes 40,000 cases of patients waiting longer than an hour for handover—this was recorded this year and is the third-highest volume on record.
Long handover delays increase the risk of harm to patients while they are in ambulances. The NHS Confederation says that eight out of 10 patients who were delayed beyond 60 minutes were assessed as having had an experience that had potentially harmed them, and nearly one in 10 experienced severe harm as a result. The number of ambulances waiting to transfer their patients also impacts on the availability of ambulances, and the response times therefore increase. This in turn risks increasing further harm to those who are waiting for an ambulance in the community. Florence Nightingale famously once said that hospitals should do no harm. It is a sentiment that I believe is appropriate to the wider healthcare system. The healthcare system should do no harm.
The Bishop of Blackburn spoke in a debate on railway strikes on 20th June 2022:
The Lord Bishop of Blackburn: My Lords, I want to try to take some of the vitriol out of the conversation, just for a moment, to ask the Minister a question. Considering the number of conversations that have been going on behind the scenes, which have not produced a result and have, therefore, not prevented the strike, has any thought been given to working on a really long-term plan—not just for the rail industry but for a number of other industries that are talking about some kind of industrial action? This would allow there to be some hope and clarity in the longer term rather than immediately just trying to resolve this issue at this moment. The longer-term plan could be a real help, if that could be talked about.
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