NHS strikes could be suspended as health secretary willing to discuss one-off payment | Political News

Health unions in England could suspend strike action to enter talks with the government after the health secretary said he is willing to discuss a one-off payment for this year.

Steve Barclay has sent a letter to health unions setting out the government’s willingness to discuss a “non-consolidated” payment for the current financial year as well as a pay deal for the next financial year in 2023-2024, sources with knowledge of the letter said.

The offer comes after health unions were angered when the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) entered “intensive” negotiations with Mr Barclay, meaning they called off last week’s strikes.

But other unions said they were not asked to the talks and threatened to escalate action, with about 32,000 Unison ambulance and nursing staff set to strike next Wednesday, and GMB and Unite ambulance staff to walk out next Monday and on 20 March.

NHS unions have continually asked for help with this financial year’s pay as the cost of living increases, as well as demanding higher wages for next year but the government kept insisting it would only talk about next year.

The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said on Thursday night it had invited unions to join “intensive talks” but it wanted all planned strike action to be called off before negotiations begin.

Last week, moments after the government and the RCN agreed to talks, the government published its recommendation for a 3.5% pay rise for nhs staff, police officers, teachers, judges and prison staff for the next financial year.

The government said a 3.5% pay rise would be “affordable” – but unions are calling for much higher increases for this year before negotiations even begin for 2023/24.

In the Department for Health and Social Care’s evidence to the pay review body, which recommends how much public sector staff should be paid, it said anything above 3.5% “would require trade offs for public service delivery or further government borrowing”.

At the time, Rachel Harrison, national secretary for the GMB union that represents ambulance workers and other NHS staff, called the offer “a disgrace” and said it “will do nothing to end GMB’s NHS and ambulance strikes”.

Unison’s head of health, Sara Gorton, said the government “couldn’t have done better than this” if it was actively trying to worsen the NHS crisis and warned it “could prove the final straw” for staff questioning whether to leave the NHS.


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