Health unions have reacted angrily to the prospect that the Government could seek to impose another below-inflation pay rise on NHS staff next year.
Further strikes in the NHS will go ahead after talks between ministers and unions collapsed in acrimony.
Onay Kasab, the lead negotiator for Unite, hit out at ministers after they demanded “productivity” savings from their members.
Speaking immediately after leaving the talks with health secretary Steve Barclay, he said: “All the government are interested in is saying that in order to justify a payment we need to … come up with productivity in the NHS.
“That is absolutely ludicrous. This isn’t a factory we’re talking about, we’re talking about people who are working well beyond their contracted hours anyway just to get the job done because … they care so much.
“So, for the government to be talking about productivity in exchange for a (payment) is an insult to every single one of our members.”
Kasab said there had been no “detailed” discussion of what a pay settlement might look like, adding that the talks had left him “very angry”.
He added: “The government have missed yet another opportunity… We came here in good faith.”
The strikes will “absolutely” go ahead as a result, he said.
Asked whether Barclay had offered a one-off payment in an attempt to end the deadlock, he said: “Well, you tell me – exactly. Unfortunately, I don’t think today made that any clearer, there were mixed messages today, but today did not make that any clearer.
“But I emphasise the thing to get out of today that is absolutely clear is that they want our members to give more in order for it to consider a payment. That is absolutely outrageous.”
It means ambulance workers will go on strike in trusts across England this Wednesday, and again on January 23.
They will be followed by expected industrial action by nurses on January 18 and 19.
The union’s director of employment relations and legal services, Joanne Galbraith-Marten, said: “Today’s meeting was bitterly disappointing – nothing for the current year and repeating that ‘the budget is already set’ for next year.
“This intransigence is letting patients down. Ministers have a distance to travel to avert next week’s nurse strike.”
Sara Gorton, head of health at Unison, said “progress” had been made in talks but that no “tangible” concessions had been made.
“It was a very civil meeting,” she said.
“We did actually manage to talk about pay – we didn’t get the tangible concessions that we might have hoped for that would enable us to call off the strikes later this week.
“But it was definitely progress when you’re in a room with the Secretary of State talking about pay, I think.
“He’s asked for our help to help with the Treasury to make the case for investment. We’ll certainly do that.”
And Rachel Harrison, GMB’s national secretary, said: “Today’s talks fell well short of anything substantial that could stop this week’s strikes.
“There was some engagement on pay – but not a concrete offer that could help resolve this dispute and make significant progress on the recruitment and retention crisis.
“The public expects the government to treat these talks seriously – it’s time they got on with it.”
Downing Street today said it would “always encourage the unions to call off strike action”.
“We think having these sorts of discussions is the right way to resolve these sorts of issues,” the prime minister’s official spokesperson said.
Asked if the prime minister was more optimistic that strikes could be called off, he said: “I think that it is for the unions to say what their intentions are. Certainly we welcome the fact that they are engaging with these discussions.”