Nurses offer to call off strikes if Sunak matches Welsh pay offer

<span>Photograph: Jon Santa Cruz/REX/Shutterstock</span>
Photograph: Jon Santa Cruz/REX/Shutterstock

The head of the UK’s biggest nursing union has issued a last ditch appeal to Rishi Sunak to agree a compromise over pay, to prevent the worst strikes in the NHS’s history from causing massive disruption to patients across England on Monday.

In a letter to the prime minister, Pat Cullen, the general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, said she was “appealing directly” to Sunak for the first time as she asked him to match offers made by the Welsh and Scottish governments, both of which have led to strikes being suspended.

Suggesting she would call off strikes planned for Monday and Tuesday if the government offered 3% more (in addition to the 4% already awarded for this year) Cullen said it was not too late to prevent the huge planned escalation of action, which will affect 73 trusts, half of the total, in England.

Cullen told Sunak: “Yesterday, the Welsh government made an offer of an additional 3% for the current financial year. Consequently, we cancelled our strike action in Wales for Monday and Tuesday.

“In Scotland, negotiations continue over additional funding for the current year too and there are no planned strikes. Your government looks increasingly isolated in refusing to reopen [talks about pay for] 2022/23.”

For weeks the RCN has been making clear it will call off action if the government shows flexibility. While the union’s official demand is for a 19% rise for nurses this year, sources say an offer totalling just 7% would be the basis for talks and an end to strikes.

This clearly suggests that the RCN is ready to move ground, and is upping pressure on ministers to do the same.

Despite the health secretary, Steve Barclay, having fought behind the scenes for more money for nurses, the Treasury and No 10 have put a firm block on any increased offer, saying they will not improve on the recommendations of the NHS Pay Review Body.

Related: NHS heads warn pay dispute is adding to strain on hospitals

The Treasury is insisting that its number one priority is to drive down inflation and that increasing pay to one public sector union will trigger a rush of demands from others for “special treatment”.

In her letter, Cullen says to Sunak that he had “appeared to demonstrate a change in tone in respect of the strike by nursing staff – even agreeing they are an exceptional case” in an interview last week to mark his 100th day in office. It was now time act upon that.

NHS workers in Wales called off strikes planned for Monday after the government offered an extra 3%, of which 1.5% will be consolidated with the rest being a non-consolidated, one-off payment.

The extra payments will be backdated to April 2022 and come in addition to the £1,400 increase already awarded to health workers in line with pay review body’s recommendations.

This coming week, the NHS will also see strikes involving ambulance staff and physiotherapists.