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Rishi Sunak sparks ‘chink of optimism’ over NHS pay ahead of showdown talks

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Rishi Sunak sparks ‘chink of optimism’ over NHS pay ahead of showdown talks

Rishi Sunak sparked a “point of optimism” over a possible pay rise for NHS workers, as the prime minister signaled his willingness to tackle demands for higher wages for the first time.

The prime minister’s comments about being “happy” to discuss the NHS pay upgrade came ahead of a crucial meeting between Steve Barclay and the health unions, in which union leaders will demand that the health secretary be involved in the pay dispute. current.

Some union leaders expressed cautious optimism after Sunak said the government was “open” to discussing the pay of nurses and ambulance staff, before insisting that the main focus of the talks was the pay review process for 2023-24 which will start in April.

However, Unite’s Sharon Graham said Sunak was “misleading” the British public over “so-called pay talks”. She insisted that until the Prime Minister accepted “the need to make real progress on the current wage claim, there will still be strikes across the NHS this winter.”

Unison responded more positively to the prime minister’s comments. “Health care workers will hope that the prime minister’s comments mean that talks [on Monday] it can go beyond just hearing about the evidence from the wage review body for the year beginning in April,” said Unison chief health officer Sara Gorton.

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”. .

The GMB union threw cold water on the idea of ​​a breakthrough, saying it was clear Barclay was unwilling to enter negotiations on Monday. “Only 45 minutes to speak is an insult,” said a union spokesman. “The government is not serious about resolving this dispute and is indulging in a box-ticking exercise.”

Sunak categorically refused to rule out looking again at this year’s pay deal for nurses and ambulance workers ahead of the talks during an interview with the BBC. Sunday with Laura Kuenssbergsaying that he wanted a “reasonable, honest, two-way conversation about payment.”

Asked by the presenter if the talks could include the 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.”

A source close to the health secretary said the independent that he would not discuss the current wage dispute on Monday. “Steve wants to look forward to next year. It’s an opportunity for unions to establish what they think is affordable in the current circumstances.”

In an opinion piece for The TelegraphMr 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.

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.

The standoff talks with union bosses come as Barclay prepares to announce additional funding as part of a plan to free up hospital beds and ease ongoing pressure on emergency services.

Hundreds of millions of pounds will be set aside to bulk buy thousands of nursing home beds in the hope that it can start to make an impact within the next month, according to the sunday time.

Sunak was criticized again for his handling of ongoing NHS problems after refusing to accept that the health service was in crisis, despite acknowledging that it was “enormous pressure”.

In an awkward exchange, the prime minister three times refused to tell Ms Kuenssberg if she uses a private GP, insisting the problem is a “distraction from the things that really matter”.

Ms. Cullen said that Mr. Sunak should “fess up” to the matter. “He is accountable to the public, and when you are accountable to the public, you have to be honest with them,” she told the BBC.

Sunak said he was “confident” steps could be taken to discharge patients more quickly. He also said that he was confident that within a few months, the government would have “virtually eliminated” waiting times of more than 18 months.

But Professor Clive Kay, chief executive of King’s College Hospital, asked if the prime minister seemed to understand the gravity of the crisis facing the health service, saying: “Not to be honest.”

Professor Kay told the BBC: “I don’t think I’ve heard [the PM] understand the fact that this is a very, very difficult situation… The suggestion that it is going to be a quick fix, an adhesive plaster, is not a reality.”

Labor leader Starmer warned that the NHS is “not just on its knees, it’s upside down”, criticizing the government’s record on waiting lists and a lack of engagement with unions on current wage demands ahead of the strikes. “It is a sign of shame for the government that it has come to this.”

Also on Monday, education secretary Gillian Keegan will meet with teachers’ unions to discuss next year’s pay review ahead of a possible school strike. Strike ticket results are due this week from NASUWT, the National Union of Education and the National Association of Principals.

Transport secretary Mark Harper is expected to meet rail union leaders from RMT and Aslef on Monday to discuss the process for resolving their pay dispute with employers.

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