Nursing strike suspended as union enters ‘intensive’ talks over pay and conditions
Plans for a 48-hour walkout by nurses next week have been paused as the Royal College of Nursing enters “intensive talks” on pay, terms and conditions and “productivity enhancing reforms” with the Government.
The move follows weeks of deadlock in negotiations, with the RCN’s General Secretary Pat Cullen on Friday saying she had not spoken with ministers in over a month.
The next industrial action pencilled in for nurses was on March 1 when they had planned to strike continuously for 48 hours. It would have included nursing staff from emergency departments, intensive care units, cancer care and other services that were previously exempted.
Ministers, officials and RCN leaders will meet on Wednesday.
The RCN originally asked for a pay rise of 5% above inflation, but has since said it would be willing to meet the government half-way.
Next week’s walkout, starting on Wednesday, was set to be the biggest strike of this winter’s pay dispute, with half of frontline services affected.
A joint statement from the Department of Health and Social Care and the RCN said: “The Government and Royal College of Nursing have agreed to enter a process of intensive talks.
“Both sides are committed to finding a fair and reasonable settlement that recognises the vital role that nurses and nursing play in the National Health Service and the wider economic pressures facing the United Kingdom and the Prime Minister’s priority to halve inflation.
“The talks will focus on pay, terms and conditions, and productivity enhancing reforms.”
NHS leaders had previously expressed “deep concern” over the prospect of strikes taking place across the NHS simultaneously.
Sir Julian Hartley, chief executive at NHS Providers, said that NHS bosses would be “breathing a sigh of relief” that the Government and RCN were entering pay negotiations.
“The past weeks have seen a worrying escalation of industrial action, which has hit patients hard. Both sides being committed to finding a fair and reasonable settlement is the glimmer of hope we all needed.
“For these talks to end in a resolution, any agreed settlement will need to pass a vote by RCN members. Hopefully, it can pave the way for similar negotiations with other unions planning strikes.
“We eagerly await the outcome and hope that further disruption to services can be averted, allowing NHS staff to continue delivering high-quality care, bearing down on backlogs and meeting elective targets.”
Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, said the announcement of talks was a “very positive step forward after weeks of inaction”.
"There will of course be significant work for all the parties involved to do and NHS leaders, their teams and patients will hope that a way forward can be found which will bring an end to the unprecedented industrial action the NHS has faced in the last few months."RCN head Ms Cullen said she was “pleased” the government had agreed to talks and is “confident we will come out with a fair pay settlement for our nursing staff”.
“Every nurse in England can breathe a sigh of relief today, as can patients,” she added. “We will make sure no stone is left unturned.”
Ongoing industrial action by paramedics will continue, while junior doctor members of the British Medical Association (BMA) will walk out for 72 hours next month.
More than 140,000 appointments have already been postponed due to industrial action, according to NHS Providers.
New figures released on Tuesday showed the UK recorded a bigger than expected surplus of £5.4 billion last month. The figure was £5 billion larger than predicted by the fiscal watchdog the OBR.
Economists predicted the better economic news could give the Chancellor “some wiggle-room” in the Budget on March 15.