With the NHS on the verge of collapse, where is Rishi SunaK? | Burnley Council leader Afrasiab Anwar column

We all look forward to a New Year, it offers new opportunities and a fresh start. However, 2023 won't be without its challenges and we have seen that over the past week.

Over the Christmas period, nurses and NHS staff went on strike for the first time ever. This week we have had ambulance workers striking again and we know further industrial action is planned across the public sector later in the month.

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The NHS has been underfunded and under resourced for far too long and is on the verge of collapse. What is being described as a crisis of pandemic proportions is being completely ignored with the government turning its back on NHS workers.

Burnley Council leader Afrasiab Anwar

These are the same key workers who we clapped for during the pandemic and pushed to their limits. They made huge sacrifices to keep services running and save lives despite being understaffed and being under immense pressure.

The cost of living is increasing week on week, and all the workers are asking for is a fair deal to reflect this along with long-term investment to secure the future of the NHS. They are striking out of desperation and just want to have their voices heard.

It is disgraceful that rather than resolve the disputes and offer a fair pay deal, Rishi Sunak is planning to undermine strikes with new laws making it illegal to take strike action. This should not be allowed to happen and every one of us should defend the right to strike.

Without a fair wage it will be impossible to attract and retain the staff the NHS desperately needs, but these disputes are not just about pay - they are about the future of the NHS and the safety of staff and patients.

Unfortunately, this is a crisis of the government's own making. Ministers have known about the looming strikes for weeks yet have done nothing to find a solution. No attempt has been made to start negotiations to protect lives and livelihoods.

During difficult times, people look to those in leadership to step up, take responsibility and lead. Instead, what we have seen over the past few weeks is a Prime Minister in hiding, keeping a low profile and avoiding the issue in the hope it will somehow all go away.

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It appears the government has deliberately allowed the strikes to go ahead to demonise the trade unions and turn the public against those striking. The strategy has clearly failed, and they are putting lives at risk.

At a time of crisis, when the whole country is looking to Rishi Sunak for answers, his response has been to declare that he has now registered with a GP. As if this somehow proves how committed he is to protecting the NHS. The only thing his revelation proves is just how out of touch he is. After all this is a man who whilst volunteering in a soup kitchen asked a homeless person if he worked in business.

It is time for the adults in the room, if there are any, to get round the table and come up with a solution.