The Royal College of Nursing (RCN), a union which represents around half a million nurses, midwives and support workers, are set for talks later today with ministers after it was announced that next week’s strike action had been halted.
From the 1-3 March, RCN members in England were planning their biggest strike of the year with nursing staff on intensive care units and cancer care wards set to partake. They had previously been exempted from earlier strikes.
However, Health Secretary Stephen Barclay will now sit down with RCN leaders instead to try and thrash out a deal that will appease all parties. The centre of the discussion will likely focus on pay and more specifically, next year’s planned pay rise for nurses due in April.
This year, Nurses and other NHS Staff below the grade of doctor were handed a 4.75% pay rise. However, with inflation in the country hitting 11%, this prompted widespread strike action which has seen mass walkouts in hospitals across the country.
Recently, the government set out their plans for next year’s pay award in a submission to the Independent NHS Pay Review Body. Their suggested pay rise for next year is 3.5%, which is less than the amount that has caused all of the strike action within the NHS.
One option on the table, however, is to backdate this pay award to effectively gives Nurses and other NHS staff a double boost when the pay rise kicks in. On top of that, the government typically end up offering more than its initial offer after recommendations come back from the pay review body.
Confidence within RCN
Pat Cullen, the General Secretary & Chief Executive of RCN, will be tasked with ensuring a fair deal is reached for the union when she begins talks with the Health Secretary today. Speaking ahead of the talks, Ms Cullen said:
“We will put our plans on the table, they can put their plans on the table – but I’m confident that we will come out with a fair pay settlement for our nursing staff. The finer details have to be worked out but I’m very assured by the Prime Minister’s intervention.
I’m entering this in good faith, I think this is a significant step forward. Every nurse in England today can breathe a sigh of relief and, more importantly, our patients can.”
The government are seemingly equally committed to coming to an agreement with RCN on a fair deal for nurses. A statement released by them last night read:
“Both sides are committed to finding a fair and reasonable settlement that recognises the vital role that nurses and nursing play in the National Health Service and the wider economic pressures facing the United Kingdom and the Prime Minister’s priority to halve inflation.”
Interestingly, though, some other unions aren’t overjoyed by the news. While some are disappointed that strike action has been paused, others are frustrated that they haven’t been invited to the talks.
A spokesman for Unison, one of the largest trade unions in the country, said that by meeting RCN alone, the government would do “nothing to solve the NHS pay dispute” suggesting that their strike action will carry on as normal.
Still a long way to go
Sir Julian Hartley, Chief Executive at NHS Providers has said that the NHS would be “breathing a sigh of relief” after “worrying escalation of industrial action which has hit patients hard”.
Despite that, there is still a very long way to go with industrial action still set to take place, not only within the NHS but across other sectors in the UK.
Ambulance workers who are part of the Unite union in Wales and North-West England are striking today while junior doctors have voted to strike in March. Teachers in England who are part of the National Education Union are also set to strike once again on Tuesday next week.
This winter has seen the most strike action in the United Kingdom in over a decade and thus far, the government have failed to reach an agreement with any of the disgruntled unions. Rishi Sunak will be hoping that today, he can buck that trend by finding a suitable deal with RCN.
The longer that strike action continues, the weaker his position as Prime Minister will look with a general election likely to take place next year. Considering how poorly his party are polling at the minute, any form of goodwill he can achieve with voters will be greatly received.