Health secretary Steve Barclay has stated the government is ‘ready to engage’ with striking unions after health leaders held talks with the prime minister this weekend.
Reports suggest that the government could be looking at a one-off payment to health workers rather than a higher pay deal, which could come in the form of a hardship grant.
Last week Pat Cullen, head of the nursing union the Royal College of Nursing, hinted that members could be prepared to meet the government halfway on a pay deal, accepting a 10% rise rather than the 19% it had initially sought.
Writing in the Telegraph, Barclay said recent strikes had caused more than 30,000 appointments to be rescheduled, and argued that any pay deal should be forward-looking.
“We should be moving forward and having constructive conversations about what is affordable this coming year, rather than going back retrospectively,” he wrote.
Health service strikes
The Department of Health and Social Care is due to meet with health unions today (9 January) to discuss pay settlements for 2023-24, which would come into force from April.
This comes as ministers across government plan to hold talks with health, teaching and rail unions today in a bid to bring an end to widespread industrial action.
However, Cullen has argued that the pay increase nurses should get for 2022-23 is “fundamental” to the ongoing dispute.
Ambulance workers are also due to strike this week, while junior doctors are holding a ballot today to gauge support for a proposed three-day strike in March.
Barclay has indicated that an increased pay rise in April, as part of next year’s settlement, could hinge on health workers agreeing to “efficiencies” in the NHS.
In an interview with The Guardian, Labour leader Keir Starmer responded: “His refusal to simply discuss this year’s pay deals is the only remaining reason strikes are going ahead.
“He doesn’t even need to legislate – just get in the room and negotiate. Nurses have shown they are willing to compromise, the government must now do the same.”