The health secretary Steve Barclayagreed to discuss the possibility of a lump sum payment or back pay to end the NHS strikes, according to multiple sources, although the strikes will continue for nurses and ambulance staff next week.
Although health unions publicly criticized the talks as disappointing, union and government sources acknowledged a significant change in approach and that the government would be prepared to ease the pain staff were experiencing due to the cost of living.
Unison’s Sara Gorton said Barclay agreed that healthcare workers would have to be offered more pay as part of the deal for this year, 2022-23, despite insisting for weeks that the pay deal was done.
“The Secretary of State is very, very clear that resolving this dispute means not just talking about paying for the next term, but paying for the current year. Very clear that resolving the dispute will require raising wages before April 1,” he said.
Gorton also said Barclay has asked the unions to help him make the case to Treasury for more investment in healthcare. “We certainly will,” he said.
The government is understood to be considering offering a one-time payment to healthcare workers, possibly in the form of a hardship payment to get them through this winter.
That offer was not made to the unions at the meeting, but a government source said Barclay had made it clear he was willing to scrap the possibility of a lump sum or back pay for 2022-23 in the next round of wage negotiations to next year. .
But a series of strikes will go ahead after the talks, which unions criticized as having nothing new on the table.
Union sources were scathing about Barclay’s apparent failure to offer any of his new ideas on how to break the deadlock.
“No cash offer was made [for 2022-23], [and] nothing concrete for 2023-24. Crazy,” said a union source, who said he did not understand why the government had invited union representatives to talk about wages, but apparently made no new suggestions.
Elaine Sparkes, deputy director of the Chartered Physiotherapy Society, said Barclay brought “nothing tangible” to the meeting in terms of ideas or initiatives to try to break the stalemate. National Health Service staff salary increase for 2022-23.
“Although the meeting was more constructive this time, there is nothing tangible on the table,” he said. “As such, we will announce the first of our strike dates later this week as we continue to push for fairer treatment for our members and their colleagues.”
A Whitehall source said the talks had been “helpful and constructive” and there was more common ground. They said the government was taking “a new approach in recent days” but said Barclay wanted to have an open conversation about productivity and efficiency.
They said that would mean a more generous salary deal if more money could be found through savings. “There will be more money available if we can work together.”
Unite, one of the unions involved in the talks, said the terms put forward by the government were “an insult to our members.” Onay Kasab of the union said the talks had not gone well. “Unfortunately, the government has missed another chance to correct this,” she told the media.
“What they want to talk about is productivity. Productivity when our members work 18-hour shifts – how you become more productive with that, I don’t know.”
Asked if a one-off payment was discussed, Kasab said: “The government is only interested in saying that in order to justify a payment, then we need to generate productivity savings in the NHS. That is absolutely ridiculous. This is not a factory we are talking about.
“We’re talking about people who are working well beyond their contracted hours anyway just to get the job done because they can’t deliver patients and because they care so much. So that the government is talking about productivity in exchange for a [payment] It is an insult to every one of our members.”
The Royal College of Nursing He called the talks “bitterly disappointing” and said the government’s “intransigence” was raising the likelihood of next week’s nurses’ strikes.
“There is still no solution to our dispute in sight. Today’s meeting was bitterly disappointing: nothing for the current year and repeating that ‘the budget is already in place’ for next year,” said Joanne Galbraith-Marten, RCN’s director of labor relations and legal services.
“This intransigence is letting patients down. Ministers have a ways to go to avoid next week’s nurses’ strike.”
Downing Street said the government was taking a “new approach” when discussing pay and was prepared to go further than before by providing financial support to help struggling workers now.
Rishi Sunak’s official spokesman said: “We recognize that despite these high [pay] awards this year, global economic headwinds are putting household budgets under pressure.
“The prime minister has said that we are happy to hear those concerns and discuss what is responsible and affordable for the country.”
Pressed by journalists whether that could include additional financial aid now, despite the fact that this year’s wage deal would not be reopened, they added: “We are willing to listen to unions if they want to present what they think is fair and reasonable. Similarly, we will provide details on what we think is affordable.”
Ambulance workers in England and Wales plan a 24-hour strike on Wednesday, while action by nurses is scheduled for January 18-19.