The union behind the nurses’ strike is willing to meet the Government ‘halfway’ and accept a 10 per cent pay offer, its leader has suggested.
The Royal College of Nursing (RCN), which coordinated two days of strike action in England in December and is plotting two more walk-outs this month, originally called for a 19 per cent rise.
Ministers labelled the figure ‘unaffordable’ and warned it would cost around £10billion a year, or six per cent, of the NHS total £152billion annual budget.
But Pat Cullen, the RCN’s general secretary, said the figure was merely a ‘starting point’ and called for the Government to do the ‘decent’ thing and meet her in the middle.
The row is over pay and working conditions, with the RCN demanding a pay rise 5 per cent above RPI inflation — equivalent to a 19 per cent boost (red bar). However, it has consistently indicated that it would accept a lower offer. A 19 per cent rise would see the average nurses’ salary rise from £37,000 to £44,050, while a 10 per cent rise would see it increase to £40,700 (purple bar)
Striking nurses at Leeds General Infirmary mocked Health Secretary Steve Barclay with a rendition of Santa Clause Is Coming To Town while on the picket line on December 20
Royal College of Nursing General Secretary Pat Cullen, centre, joined members of the union on the picket line outside the Royal Victoria Infirmary in Newcastle on December 20
She told Times Radio’s Past Imperfect podcast: ‘There is a rhetoric out there that says the RCN is unrealistic, it’s looking for something that’s totally unachievable, it’s looking for 19 per cent.
‘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.’
The row is over pay and working conditions, with the RCN demanding a pay rise 5 per cent above RPI inflation — equivalent to a 19 per cent boost.
The union says the uplift is needed to tackle a decade of pay erosion. However, it has consistently indicated that it would accept a lower offer.
A 19 per cent rise would see the average nurses’ salary rise from £37,000 to £44,050, while a 10 per cent rise would see it increase to £40,700.
The Government has so far refused to negotiate on salaries, sticking with its offer of around 4 per cent, or £1,400, which is backed by its independent NHS Pay Review Body.
But the union says the system, which was set up under Margaret Thatcher, is ‘out of date’ and ‘does not work for nurses’.
Up to 100,000 nurses took to picket lines on December 15 and 20 in the first national strike in the RCN’s 106-year history.
Almost 30,000 operations and appointments were cancelled as a result across the country.
The RCN staffed chemotherapy, emergency cancer services, dialysis, critical care units, neonatal and paediatric intensive care.
Some areas of mental health and learning disability and autism services were also exempt, while trusts were told they could request staffing for specific clinical needs.
In adult A&E and urgent care, nurses worked Christmas Day-style rotas.
Some 4,560 inpatient procedures were rescheduled because of the RCN action over the two days. This includes routine procedures such as hip and knee replacements, which require an overnight stay in hospital. Another 25,000 outpatient appointments were postponed across England because of the walkouts. These can include appointments, X-rays and minor procedures. Most of the chaos was caused at Nottingham University Hospitals NHS Trust (2,413), followed by Newcastle-Upon-Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust (2,313). Map shows total for both inpatient and outpatient appointments cancelled
Some 9,999 staff were absent from work due to the walkouts on December 15. Another 11,509 were recorded for December 20. Most disruption was logged in the South West, with 4,748 staff taking part over the two days
NHS nurses: A workforce where women outnumber men by a huge margin and a significant number are approaching retirement or seeking a better a work-life balance. Pay is the central issue at the heart of the strikes, with the average nurse earing £37,000. This estimate includes both new graduates, who start on £27,055, and very senior nurses who earn more
The RCN has said its members will strike again on January 18 and 19 unless pay negotiations are opened.
‘I do not wish to prolong this dispute, but the Prime Minister has left us with no choice,’ Ms Cullen said.
Some Tory MPs have urged ministers to reconsider their position in a bid to avert further chaos and ask for the independent panel to review its advice, which was given before inflation surged amid the war in Ukraine.
But Mr Barclay has consistently refused to negotiate pay.
He has pinned the focus on the 2023/24 pay uplift, hinting that staff can ‘look forward’ to next year’s review.
However, he has told the pay review body to ‘have regard’ to the Government’s inflation target when making its recommendation, which suggests nurses would only get a two per cent rise.
Rishi Sunak said today that the Government wrote to all union leaders yesterday, inviting them in for talks on Monday.
He said the Government ‘incredibly value the important work that our public sector workers do, especially our nurses and we want to have an honest, grown-up conversation about what’s affordable, what’s responsible for the country’.
The RCN January action is set to take place at more NHS employers in England than the previous strikes, increasing from 44 to 55 trusts, according to the RCN.
The union has also warned that strike action could continue over the next six months unless an agreement can be reached.
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: ‘The Health and Social Care Secretary wants to have an honest conversation with the RCN about what is affordable in pay settlements for next year during these challenging times, and is keen to meet for discussions as soon as possible.
‘We have accepted the recommendations of the independent NHS Pay Review Body in full and have given over 1million NHS workers a pay rise of at least £1,400 this year.
‘This is on top of a per cent pay increase last year when public sector pay was frozen and wider Government support with the cost of living.’
Ms Cullen’s interview with Past Imperfect is due to be played on Times Radio at 9pm on Sunday and to be released as a podcast today.
In other health news…
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YORKSHIRE AND THE HUMBER
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