The Royal College of Nursing has indicated that it could accept a pay rise of around 10 per cent to resolve a dispute with the Government – nine per cent below its original demand.
General Secretary Pat Cullen told Times Radio she would be willing to “meet the Government halfway” as further strikes loom later this month.
The RCN have claimed the Government’s offer of a pay rise of £1,400 is insufficient to shield staff from inflation and the cost of living.
Nurses staged two days of strike action in trusts across the country last month and will walk out again on January 18 and 19.
The RCN has said it will call off strikes if ministers agree to meet to discuss pay – though Health Secretary Steve Barclay has repeatedly refused to do so.
Ms Cullen told Times Radio that nurses “understand the economic climate that we’re working in” so could be prepared to accept a lower offer than 19 per cent.
“There is a rhetoric out there that says the Royal College of Nursing is unrealistic, it's looking for something that's totally unachievable, it's looking for 19 per cent,” she said.
“Now I could sit here all day and tell you nurses' pay has dropped by 20 per cent over the last decade. Do I believe those nurses are entitled (to 19 per cent)? Absolutely, I believe they're entitled to 19 per cent. But we also understand the economic climate that we're working in.
“And what I would say to [health secretary] Steve Barclay and to the prime minister is get into a room and meet me halfway here and do the decent thing for these nurses.”
Her comments came hours after the Government announced it would bring in anti-strike legislation which will force unions to set minimum service levels in certain sectors.
Organisations could be sued if they do not comply with the legislation.
St George’s University Hospitals on Thursday declared a critical incident due to “significant pressure on flow” within the hospital, saying it needed to improve the “discharge of patients across all ward areas”.
It came just a day after Guy’s and St St Thomas’ Hospital NHS Trust said its Edward ward would open for “critical care surge capacity”.
In a statement, the Trust told the Standard that it had undertaken the move as part of “existing plans” for the winter and acknowledged that its hospitals were “very busy”.