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Nurses suspend 48-hour strike action for pay talks with government

The talks will focus on pay, terms and conditions, and productivity-enhancing reforms, say government and Royal College of Nursing

Rebecca Thomas
Health Correspondent
Tuesday 21 February 2023 19:44 GMT
Junior doctors vote for 72-hour strike in March

Nurses have suspended their forthcoming strike action while their union holds “intensive talks” with health secretary Steve Barclay in the bitter dispute over pay.

The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) and the government issued a joint statement saying that the talks would focus on “pay, terms and conditions, and productivity-enhancing reforms”.

The action, planned for 1 March, was set to be the most substantial yet by the RCN, with more than half of NHS trusts affected and cancer and A&E nurses due to walk out.

A joint statement from the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) and the RCN said that both sides were committed to finding a “fair and reasonable settlement” that recognises the vital role that nurses play in the NHS as well as the economic pressures facing the UK.

“The talks will focus on pay, terms and conditions, and productivity-enhancing reforms,” it read. “The health secretary will meet with the Royal College of Nursing on Wednesday to begin talks. The Royal College of Nursing will pause strike action during these talks.”

The RCN has previously indicated it would consider lowering its demand for a 15 per cent pay increase to 10 per cent in order to end the row.

But the NHS pay review body has been told that the government is only able to offer a 3.5 per cent rise.

In its submission to the pay review body for 2023-24, the DHSC said: “Through the current financial settlement provided by HM Treasury to the department and reprioritisation decisions, funding is available for pay awards up to 3.5 per cent.

“Pay awards above this level would require trade-offs for public service delivery, or further government borrowing, at a time when headroom against fiscal rules is historically low and sustainable public finances are vital in the fight against inflation.”

The news comes after the British Medical Association (BMA) announced on Monday that almost 37,000 junior doctors had voted in favour of holding a three-day strike next month.

The doctors’ strikes would see a “full walkout” that would affect all areas of care, including A&E, maternity, cancer and GP services. The BMA is demanding that the government address a 26 per cent real-terms cut in junior doctors’ pay between 2008 and 2021. To meet this demand, the BMA estimates that a 35 per cent increase in pay would be needed for this financial year.

On Tuesday afternoon, the BMA said it planned to meet with DHSC officials on Wednesday, but that it understood Mr Barclay would not be in attendance at the “critical” meeting.

The BMA confirmed that its planned meeting with civil servants was separate from the RCN’s scheduled meeting with the health secretary.

Speaking ahead of Wednesday’s meeting, Dr Robert Laurenson, the co-chair of the BMA’s Junior Doctors Committee, said: “For a meeting of this significance to go ahead without the minister in charge shows how little attention this government continues to afford to doctors and their patients.

“Tomorrow’s meeting is a really important opportunity for the minister and the government to bring a workable solution to the table – a solution that could very well avert our planned strike action and be the beginning of the end of the ever-deepening crisis in the NHS.

“What else could be more important than trying to stop tens of thousands of junior doctors going on strike at a time when patient care is at an all-time low and waiting lists at an all-time high? It is very much within the government’s gift to stop strike action, but we implore Steve Barclay not to miss this critical meeting.”

Meanwhile, health minister Maria Caulfield has said that the junior doctors’ pay demands are “unrealistic”, and claimed that their strike action would “put patients at risk”.

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