Explained: What is next for NHS strikes?

·3-min read
Explained: What is next for NHS strikes?

On the surface, the decision by a majority of unions in the NHS Staff Council to back the Government’s pay offer feels like the beginning of the end of strike action in the health service.

If only things were that simple. Despite securing the backing of large unions such as Unison and GMB, the deal was firmly rejected by Unite and the Royal College of Nursing (RCN).

Both unions have signalled their intention to carry on striking, arguing that the offer of a 5 per cent pay rise and one-off lump sum is insufficient to shield their members from the cost of living crisis.

The Standard looks at how the strikes could play out in the coming months - and whether they could come to an end.

What is the NHS Staff Council?

The NHS Staff Council is responsible for the Agenda for Change pay contract, which covers more than a million workers from nurses to paramedics to physiotherapists.

It is tasked with maintaining the pay system and negotiating changes in core conditions for staff, according to NHS Employers.

Its executives include senior officials from each major health union, who meet regularly to discuss pay and working conditions.

NHS workers take part in a march from St Thomas' Hospital to Trafalgar Square (PA)
NHS workers take part in a march from St Thomas' Hospital to Trafalgar Square (PA)

What could happen next?

The future of the dispute rest on the results of the RCN’s ballot for a further six months of industrial action.

RCN members are expected to vote in the coming weeks, with a final result due in June.

While the union’s previous strike ballot was disaggregated by individual NHS Trust, the upcoming ballot will apply nationally.

This means that nurses would walk out of every hospital in England during a potential strike, which would be significantly more disruptive.

However, it is far from guaranteed that the threshold for industrial action will be met.

Ministers hope that, once the new pay offer appears in nurses’ bank accounts, the appetite for further strikes will wane.

Just over half (54 per cent) of RCN members voted against the Government’s pay deal on a 61 per cent turnout. The RCN know that, to secure a fresh mandate, they will need to rally their members once again and convince them that a better deal is possible.

If the RCN secures a mandate for another six months of strikes, it would effectively leave the union and the Government deadlocked.

Mr Barclay has insisted this is the final offer he will make to NHS staff - but the prospect of mass walkouts leading right up to election season may force him reluctantly back to the table.

NHS staff stand on the picket line outside St Thomas’ Hospital in London (File picture) (PA Wire)
NHS staff stand on the picket line outside St Thomas’ Hospital in London (File picture) (PA Wire)

Will this affect the junior doctors’ strike?

Practically, the decision of the NHS Staff Council will have no impact on the junior doctors’ dispute as they are covered by separate payment contracts.

The British Medical Association (BMA) remain in dispute with the Government, though the union has not called any further strikes for over a fortnight.

Both sides remain deadlocked despite the BMA’s call to allow Acas, the independent conciliation service, to broker talks.

The BMA have demanded a 35 per cent pay rise to combat years of erosion to junior doctors’ wages.

As such, it is highly unlikely they would accept a deal similar to that offered to Agenda for Change staff.

The BMA also has an incredibly strong mandate for action - with 98 per cent of junior doctor members backing strike action on a 77 per cent turnout.

Strikes could last into the summer and beyond, imperilling Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s pledge to cut NHS waiting lists by next year.