Strikes: Health unions considering offer to enter talks with government over pay

Health unions are considering an offer from the government for fresh talks amid ongoing strikes.

The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) says it has invited unions to join "intensive talks" about matters including "pay, terms and conditions improvements and productivity-enhancing reforms".

But it wants all planned strike action to be called off before negotiations begin.

The move follows a similar offer being taken up by the Royal College of Nursing last week as it seeks a pay rise for its staff.

Unions say the way those talks progress will inform their decision to meet the government.

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Sara Gorton, the head of health at the Unison union, said: "Health unions will need to clarify the basis upon which talks can get under way through the NHS staff council.

"This includes understanding the status of the unilateral talks that have taken place with the Royal College of Nursing (RCN)."

Rachel Harrison, the national secretary of the GMB union, said the government had set "some concerning preconditions" for the talks and wanted more clarity on what the discussions could entail.

The use of "productivity-enhancing reforms" has been taken to mean job cuts by some, although the government has insisted they want to talk about using more technology in the health service to improve patient experiences.

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A DHSC spokesperson said: "We have been clear we are happy to talk to all unions who are willing to discuss what is fair and reasonable.

"We have invited the NHS Staff Council, who represent Agenda for Change unions, to join a series of intensive talks beginning this week covering pay, terms and conditions improvements and productivity-enhancing reforms.

"Any deal needs to strike a balance between giving NHS staff a fair deal and delivering on our promise to halve inflation this year.

"In order for talks to start, all planned strike action must be called off with immediate effect."

The NHS Confederation, which represents health providers, has welcomed the offer.

The organisation's chief executive, Matthew Taylor, said: "We have been calling for the government time and again to open negotiations with all unions and this is a very positive step in the right direction.

"We would hope that all trade unions representing healthcare professionals across the NHS accept this olive branch from the government and are prepared to come to the table with the aim of reaching a compromise with the government as quickly as possible."

On Thursday morning, the British Medical Association, representing junior doctors, went into the DHSC to speak to Health Secretary Steve Barclay.

But the meeting was unsuccessful, with the union saying Mr Barclay turned up "without a mandate" and "there was never any real prospect of any real negotiation or offer - it was just a facade".

The BMA is asking for starting pay for newly-qualified junior doctors to increase from £14 to £19 an hour - after seeing their pay eroded by more than 26% over the past 15 years, it adds.

A No 10 spokesman said junior doctors had received an 8.2% pay increase since 2019-20.