Could backdated pay rises end the NHS strikes? Steve Barclay hints at cash boost for health staff to break deadlock but unions say walk-outs WILL still go ahead this week

  • Health Secretary Steve Barclay agreed to examine union proposals today
  • A 2023/24 pay settlement due in April could be back-dated to this month  
  • But Rachel Harrison, of GMB union, said talks ‘fell well short’ of what was needed 

Nurses and ambulance drivers could have their next pay rise brought forward by three months in a bid to end the wave of strikes hitting the NHS.

Health Secretary Steve Barclay today agreed to examine union proposals that would see the 2023/24 pay settlement due in April back-dated to this month.

If health workers are offered a 5 per cent rise in April, a nurse on an average £33,338 would get an increase of £1,670. Back-dating this to January would mean an extra £417.

But the move was not enough to head off the immediate threat of more strikes, with ambulance drivers saying they would press ahead with a walkout in parts of the country on Wednesday. Nurses said walkouts scheduled for January 18 and 19 would go ahead. Another ambulance strike is scheduled for January 23.

Whitehall sources questioned whether the Treasury would agree to sign off the back-dating plan, which would increase the cost of the pay deal by a quarter. Downing Street warned the deal would have to be funded from existing budgets, meaning potential cuts to services if pay awards are significantly above the 3.5 per cent pencilled in by the Treasury.

In a sign that the Government fears the disputes could last for months, ministers will on Tuesday press ahead with the publication of new strike laws that will require unions in key sectors such as emergency cover and the rail industry to provide minimum service levels during strikes. The TUC will convene a meeting of union leaders on Wednesday to discuss further co-ordination of strikes this winter in a bid to force ministers to back down. Senior union representatives in the health, education and transport sectors held separate meetings with ministers today after Rishi Sunak offered to have an ‘open’ discussion about pay. Government sources insisted that the meetings had been ‘positive’, but unions left warning that industrial action would go ahead.

Rachel Harrison, of the GMB union, said the talks ‘fell well short’ of what was needed.

Nurses are still to walkout on January 18 and 19 and an ambulance strike is set for January 23

She added: ‘There was some engagement on pay but not a concrete offer that could help resolve this dispute.’ Joanne Galbraith-Marten, of the Royal College of Nursing, said there was ‘no resolution to our dispute yet in sight’ and warned that strikes by nurses next week would go ahead.

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She added: ‘Today’s meeting was bitterly disappointing. Ministers have a distance to travel to avert next week’s nurse strike.’ Unite union negotiator Onay Kasab said Mr Barclay had warned that extra pay would depend on increased productivity – an idea he branded ‘an insult’.

He said: ‘That is absolutely ludicrous. This isn’t a factory we’re talking about – we’re talking about people who are working well beyond their contracted hours anyway just to get the job done because… they care so much.’

Sara Gorton, head of health at Unison, said the Government’s willingness to discuss pay was a ‘major step forward’, but warned that ‘cold hard cash’ would be needed.

Rachel Harrison, of GMB union, said discussions 'fell well short' of what was needed

Rachel Harrison, of GMB union, said discussions ‘fell well short’ of what was needed

She added: ‘We did actually manage to talk about pay – we didn’t get the tangible concessions that we might have hoped for that would enable us to call off the strikes later this week. But it was definitely progress when you’re in a room with the Secretary of State talking about pay,.’

The PM earlier fuelled speculation that the Government might offer striking public sector workers a one-off payment to settle disputes when he refused to rule out the move. Mr Sunak said ministers were ‘happy to talk about pay demands… anchored in what’s reasonable, what’s responsible, what’s affordable’.

However, a Government source said the PM was prepared to hold out for months if necessary rather than give in to pay demands that risked fuelling inflation.

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