This comes after the nurses organized an unprecedented strike last month, to join a wave of industrial strike by public sector workers who have been affected by the cost of living crisis.
The main nursing union accuses the government of failing to negotiate seriously an improvement in their salary deal for the current year.
The latest lockdown is putting more pressure on the state-funded National Health Service (NHS) at a time of peak demand and long waiting lists for treatment.
“It is an inevitable industry measure that will have an impact on patients,” Health Secretary Steve Barclay said on Tuesday.
Barclay said a two-day nurses’ strike in England and Wales in December led to the cancellation of “about 30,000 elective procedures and outpatient appointments”.
“It is understandable that patients are concerned that the nurses may strike further,” he added.
However, the plight of the medical staff has led to public sympathy as soaring food prices and energy bills have affected low-wage workers across the board.
A YouGov poll conducted on Tuesday showed that 63 percent support the nurses’ strike.
But Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s official spokesperson said on Tuesday that this was not “the right course of action.
“We continue to call on the unions to move away from the sit-in lines and continue the discussions.”
– ‘Olive branch’ –
Matthew Taylor, president of the NHS Confederation, which represents state healthcare providers in England and Wales, on Wednesday urged ministers to renew wage talks with trade unions.
“Our message to the government is to give the NHS a fighting chance and do everything they can to bring an end to this devastating conflict,” Taylor said.
Nursing strikes this week could cause 4,500 operations to be canceled and 25,000 outpatient appointments to be cancelled, the NHS Federation estimates.
Further strikes were planned for 6 and 7 February by the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) union, which said they would be of “the highest intensity in our history”.
RCN General Secretary Pat Cullen said: “The olive branch that I gave governments — asking them to meet me halfway and start negotiations — is still there. They should grab it.”
A union representing ambulance workers, GMB, is also expected to announce Wednesday that it will resume the strike.
Ambulance drivers and paramedics this month made their second exit in two months due to wages and conditions.
The GMB union tweeted on Tuesday that “the government’s silence on wages gives … no choice but to strike”.
Barkley said he was keen to continue the dialogue, citing “constructive conversations” with the unions.
The NHS argues it has given staff a “fair wage settlement”.
Westminster MPs on Monday gave initial support for controversial legislation that would require some frontline workers to maintain a minimum service level during strikes.