Strike action in the NHS is halted after health unions representing paramedics and nurses received a “fair and reasonable” salary offer from the Government.
In a joint statement released by the NHS staff council and the government on Thursday, unions confirmed a final offer had been received and would be made to members in the coming weeks.
The three largest unions – the Royal College of Nursing, Unison and the GMB – all support the deal. However, Unite, which represents ambulance staff, said it would not recommend it but that members would make the final decision.
It follows “positive progress” at talks on Thursday, with Chancellor Jeremy Hunt suggesting the Treasury has found more money to fund wage increases for NHS workers.
The offer consists of a one-off payment for the current financial year 2022/23 valued at £1,655 to £3,789 for Agenda for Change staff in England and a 5% consolidated pay increase for 2023/24. The offer applies to all NHS staff except doctors who have a different contract.
The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) said it would recommend its members vote for the deal.
Secretary-General Pat Cullen said: “The Government has been forced to enter these negotiations and restart payroll because of historic pressure from nursing staff. Members made the hardest decision to go on strike and I believe it was confirmed today.
“After tough negotiations there are a number of commitments here that our members see will have a positive impact on the care profession, the NHS and the people who rely on it.
“Our members will have their say on this and I respect everyone’s perspective. Everyone should take a good look at what it means to them.”
Unison’s health chief Sara Gorton said: “If the offer is accepted, it would give wages a significant boost this year and next year a wage increase that is more than the government had projected.
“It’s better than having to wait many more months for the recommendation of the NHS Salary Review Board.”
GMB national secretary Rachel Harrison said the government had moved from refusing to talk about pay this year to putting an extra £2.5billion on the table.
She said: “GMB members should be rightly proud of themselves. It’s been a tough road, but they faced the Department of Health and won what we think is the best deal that can be negotiated at this stage.”
But Sharon Graham, Unite general secretary, said the deal was “not one that Unite can recommend to its members”.
“It is clear that this Government does not have the interests of workers or the NHS at heart. Her behavior and disdain for NHS staff and workers in general is evident through her actions.
“Britain has a broken economy and workers are paying the price.”
Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, said NHS bosses “would breathe a sigh of relief” after the announcement but the “devil would be in the details”.
“Leaders will be keen for the Government to explain the full mechanisms of funding for this award and stress that funding for the award should not come from already exhausted NHS budgets or there will be a situation where we Peter rob pay paul with patients who pay the cost.
He later said the NHS didn’t have the money “just lying around” to fund the wage offer itself.
Mr Taylor told Channel 4 News: “The Government has said in its press release today that the cost of this will be covered with no impact on patient services or the quality of care. Well that’s a good guarantee. And we want to see which will be delivered in the next few days.
“There’s no way the NHS can find £1.5 billion, £2.5 billion without impacting patient services or the quality of care. We don’t just have this money lying around.”
Last month, the RCN and several health unions representing paramedics agreed to suspend industrial action while they engaged in intensive negotiations with ministers.
Speaking to Times Radio on Thursday morning, Mr Hunt hinted a deal was near.
“We will only offer what we can afford to fund. But what we have said is that we are willing to make a more generous offer than was determined by the independent proceedings last year, provided it is not inflationary.”
The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) had initially targeted a 19.5 per cent pay rise but later indicated it was willing to compromise on a lower figure. Unison, GMB and Unite had not made a specific salary request, but wanted a salary increase to keep up with inflation.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said: “We have taken a sensible approach throughout and this offer is good for NHS staff, it is good for the taxpayer and most importantly it is good news for patients whose care is no longer disrupted by strikes .”
Separately, tens of thousands of junior doctors from the British Medical Association (BMA) ended the 72-hour strike at 8am on Thursday.
Nurses strike | 18-19 January 2023
The true extent of the disruption caused by the strikes is yet to be seen, but health leaders have warned tens of thousands of appointments will have been postponed.
dr Emma Runswick, deputy leader of the BMA council, urged the government to “get meaningfully involved” but there was no sign of a breakthrough in the dispute over doctors’ pay.
The BMA welcomed an invitation to discuss wages on Thursday and proposed a new meeting with the government on Friday – but the government reiterated it would only come to the table if strikes were suspended.
Health Secretary Steve Barclay urged young doctors to follow the example of other health unions that have set up with the government.
“We have offered the trainee doctors the same terms that have been accepted by the other unions and I hope the trainee doctors will respond to that,” he said.
Meanwhile, RMT general secretary Mick Lynch told Times Radio that “the end of industrial action on UK railways is in sight” if the government was willing to “change its stance”.
He said a deal on Thursday on health sector strikes could “open the door” to settling disputes in other sectors such as rail.
“A negotiated settlement can be reached if the government and companies want to change their attitude towards unions, maybe we’ll get some deals in the healthcare sector today, we’ll have to see how that goes.
“And if that can open the door to other sectors, like we’ve had recently with the fire service, then we’ll look at what the company has to offer. But they must make us a better offer. The deal on the table is just not acceptable. But we will be reasonable in our stance and we will work out an agreement with them when they are ready.”