Rishi Sunak’s government is said to be considering a “one-off payment for nurses and ambulance workers to end strikes that are causing major disruption to the NHS.
The prime minister raised a “point of optimism” about a possible pay rise for healthcare workers after signaling his willingness to tackle demands for higher wages for the first time.
Health Secretary Steve Barclay He is expected to focus on next year’s wage review process, rather than the current wage dispute, when he meets with health union leaders Monday morning.
But ministers are reportedly considering a “one-time” payment to nurses and ambulances, possibly in the form of a cost-of-living payment, to prevent imminent strikes, according to The Guardian.
Healthcare workers in Wales have been offered such pay to prevent further strikes. But No 10 and the Treasury have been accused of blocking the deal when the idea was previously raised.
Despite the government’s insistence that Monday’s meeting focus on the 2023-24 wage review, some union leaders expressed cautious optimism after Sunak said he was “open” to discuss pay for workers at the Health.
Asked on BBC Sunday With Laura Kuenseberg If the talks could include the 2022-23 pay dispute “right here, right now”, the prime minister replied: “We want to have these talks.”
But Sunak also added: “We are about to start a new round of wage settlement for this year. [2023-4]. Before that process starts, the government is willing to sit down with the unions and talk about wages and make sure they understand where we are coming from.”
Royal College of Nursing (RCN) boss Pat Cullen said Sunak’s comments offered a “point of optimism” that strikes due to start in mid-January could still be averted, and his comments represented a “small change”. .
RCN’s director for England, Patricia Marquis, told Sky News on Monday that there was less than a 50-50 chance of avoiding strikes from mid-January.
“If there are silver linings, if there are more meetings, my colleagues and I will remain optimistic that we can reach a resolution,” he said ahead of the talks.
Unite’s Sharon Graham said Sunak was “misleading” the British public about “so-called pay talks”, while the GMB union also poured cold water on the idea of a breakthrough, describing Monday’s meeting as an “exercise in check boxes”.
Thousands of young doctors in England will start voting Monday on the three-day strike in March. The nurses are already prepared for the strike on January 18 and 19, while the ambulance personnel will do so on January 11 and 23.
Barclay hinted that striking NHS staff could be offered a better pay deal from April, if union leaders agree to “productivity and efficiency” reforms in return.
When asked about the idea of a pay rise in exchange for efficiency reforms, Ms Marquis said: “That, to me, is very concerning to me, it shows a level of misunderstanding of the situation the NHS finds itself in and the infirmary at this time. ”
The RCN director added: “Of course there is always some kind of efficiencies that can be done, but it really seems like what they are trying to do is get…the NHS to fund their own payment and we don’t. I think that is possible.
Asked if nurses were losing support ahead of further strikes, Ms Marquis said: “I don’t think we’re losing the battle, I think the government is losing the battle,” before repeating calls for Barclay to negotiate the Current salary. dispute.
On Monday, the health secretary will also announce additional funding of £200m to buy thousands of extra beds in care homes in a bid to ease the current pressure on hospitals.
The additional money for integrated care boards is aimed at freeing up hospital beds so people can be more quickly admitted from A&E to wards.
A further £50m will go into additional capital funding for hospitals to expand discharge wards and ambulance centers to help tackle queues of paramedics waiting to deliver patients.
But Care England chief executive Professor Martin Green told BBC Radio 4 Today program it is unclear how the latest scheme, the purchase of nursing home beds in a bid to alleviate the NHS crisis, differs from the earlier initiative.
Professor Green said the government will “never, ever understand that they have to learn from their mistakes”, adding: “So what this new money might do is alleviate an immediate problem, but it won’t get to the root cause in the long term.” . affairs.”
Labour’s shadow health secretary Wes Streeting criticized the plans as “another sticky patch”. he told the bbc Breakfast that Labor would instead “address the root cause of the crisis” by hiring more carers.
Calling the planned strikes in January a “cry for help” by NHS workers, Streeting warned that staff feel a “real sense of moral damage”.
The Labor leader said ministers needed to negotiate a “fair” deal with health workers. “I think they are speaking for the broader NHS workforce,” he added of the striking staff.