NHS strike action paused as Government and health unions reach pay deal
Strike action in the NHS will be paused after health unions representing paramedics and nurses received a “fair and reasonable” pay offer from the Government.
In a joint statement released on Thursday by the NHS staff council and the Government, unions confirmed that a final offer had been received and would be put to members in the coming weeks.
The biggest three unions- the Royal College of Nursing, Unison and the GMB - are all backing the deal. However Unite, which represents ambulance workers, said it would not recommend it but that members would make the final decision.
It follows “positive progress” in talks throughout Thursday, with Chancellor Jeremy Hunt suggesting that the Treasury had found more money to fund pay rises for NHS workers.
The offer consists of a one-off payment for the current financial year 2022/23 worth between £1,655 and £3,789 for Agenda for Change staff in England and a 5 per cent consolidated pay increase for 2023/24. The offer covers all NHS staff except doctors, who are on a different contract.
The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) said it would recommend its members to vote for the deal.
General Secretary Pat Cullen said: “The government was forced into these negotiations and to reopen the pay award as a result of the historic pressure from nursing staff. Members took the hardest of decisions to go on strike and I believe they have been vindicated today.
“After tough negotiations, there are a series of commitments here that our members can see will make a positive impact on the nursing profession, the NHS and the people who rely on it.
“Our members will have their say on it and I respect everybody’s perspective. Each should look closely at what it means for them.”
Unison head of health Sara Gorton said: "If accepted, the offer would boost pay significantly this year and mean a wage increase next year that's more than the government had budgeted for.
"This is better than having to wait many more months for the NHS pay review body to make its recommendation.”
Rachel Harrison, GMB national secretary, said the Government has gone from refusing to talk about pay this year to putting an extra £2.5 billion on the table.
She said: "GMB members should rightly be proud of themselves. It's been a tough road but they have faced down the Department of Health and won an offer that we feel is the best that can be achieved at this stage through negotiation.”
But Sharon Graham, General Secretary of Unite, said the deal was “not one Unite can recommend to its members”.
“It is clear that this Government does not hold the interest of workers or the NHS at heart. Their behaviour and disdain for NHS workers and workers generally is clear from their actions.
“Britain has a broken economy and workers are paying the price.”
Matthew Taylor chief executive of the NHS Confederation, said NHS bosses would be “breathing a sigh of relief” following the announcement but that the “devil would be in the detail”.
“Leaders will be keen for the government to explain the full mechanics of how this award will be funded and stress that any funding for the award should not come out of already stretched NHS budgets, otherwise it will be a situation where we are robbing Peter to pay Paul with patients bearing the costs.”
He later said that the NHS does not have the money "just lying around" to fund the pay offer itself.
Mr Taylor told Channel 4 News: "The Government has said in its press release today that the cost of this will be met without any impact on patient services or quality of care. Well, that's a good guarantee. And we'll want to see that being delivered on in the next few days.
"There's no way that the NHS can find one-and-a-half, two billion, two-and-a-half billion pounds without an impact on patient services or quality of care. We don't have that money just lying around."
Last month, the RCN and several health unions representing paramedics agreed to suspend industrial action while they entered into intensive negotiations with ministers.
Speaking to Times Radio on Thursday morning, Mr Hunt suggested that a deal was close.
"We will only offer what we can afford to fund. But what we've said is that we are willing to make a more generous offer than was settled by the independent processes last year, providing it's not inflationary."
The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) had initially sought a pay rise of 19.5 per cent but later indicated they were willing to compromise on a lower figure. Unison, GMB and Unite had not made a specific pay demand but wanted any pay rise to match inflation.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said: “We have taken a reasonable approach throughout and this offer is good for NHS staff, it’s good for the taxpayer and most importantly it is good news for patients whose care will no longer be disrupted by strike action.”
Separately, tens of thousands of junior doctor members of the British Medical Association (BMA) finished at 72-hour strike at 8am on Thursday.
Nurses Strike | 18-19th January 2023
The true extent of the disruption caused by the strikes is still emerging, but health leaders have warned that tens of thousands of appointments will have been postponed.
Dr Emma Runswick, deputy chair of the BMA council, urged the Government to “engage meaningfully” but there was no sign of a breakthrough in the doctors’ pay dispute.
The BMA on Thursday welcomed an invitation to discuss pay and suggested a new meeting with the Government on Friday - but the Government reiterated it would only get around the table if strike action was paused.
Health Secretary Steve Barclay called on junior doctors to follow the example of other health unions which have settled with the Government.
"We have offered the same terms to the junior doctors that were accepted by the other trade unions and that is what I hope the junior doctors will respond to," he said.
Meanwhile, the RMT’s General Secretary Mick Lynch told Times Radio that "the end is in sight" of industrial action on Britain’s railways if the Government are willing to "change their attitude".
He said a settlement over strikes in the health sector on Thursday could "open the door" to resolving disputes in other industries like rail.
“A negotiated settlement can be achieved if the government and the companies want to change their attitude towards the trade unions, perhaps we'll get some settlements in the health sector today, we'll have to see what that looks like.
“And if that can open the door to other sectors such as we've had in the fire service recently, then we'll look at what the company has got to offer. But they must offer us a better deal. The deal on the table is simply not acceptable. But we'll be reasonable in our stance and we'll work out a settlement with them if they're willing to do so."