Government will not look at ‘current year’ pay award’ for nurses, says minister

The NHS is facing huge disruption today as thousands of nurses and ambulance staff walk out across England. Nurses are starting a two-day strike today as part of a long-running dispute over pay. They want a new salary offer for the current year amid rising inflation.

The government has insisted that a higher offer would not be affordable, and is only willing to talk about awards for the next financial year.

Ambulance workers are also on strike in the West Midlands, North East, East Midlands and North West. Further action will be taken later this week in London, Yorkshire, the South West, the North East and the North West.

The move prompted NHS providers, represented by the trust, to urge the public to use emergency services “sensibly” as it warned the whole service was heading towards a “crunch point”.

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Providing background on ongoing industrial action, Health Minister Maria Caulfield, who is also a nurse, said: Sky News: “We have been quite clear that we are not going to look at this year’s salary award which was agreed by the union and the government in April. [who] Fully accept salary recommendations.

“We really want to focus on the upcoming pay awards as they are doing in Scotland which will recognize a number of factors such as inflation, recruitment and retention – which are included in the pay review body’s recommendations”.

Ms Caulfield added that the Government needed to negotiate with the whole of the public sector, and that a 1% pay rise would equate to a £700m cost to the taxpayer.

Asked if patients were at risk, the minister said there was “risk to patients if more strikes continue” as routine procedures continued to be delayed. He went on to say that the ambulance strike “raises someone’s risk” if they have an emergency.

According to the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) union, action in Scotland was called off due to overpayment commitments for the first three months of 2023.

Action in Wales was also called off after improvements were made to the 2022/23 pay offer. These proposals will be put to the members to see if they want to call off the strike.

Also in the media round this morning, RCN general secretary Pat Cullen claimed the Prime Minister and the government had failed to engage adequately in discussions on pay and conditions.

she said ITVof its “Good Morning Britain” program that it is now “weeks later I’ve heard from someone in his government, knowing that’s happening today and tomorrow”.

Referring to a letter sent to Mr Sunak at the weekend, Ms Cullen said: “I told him clearly that he must start talking to me. He is now punishing nurses in England. Given what has happened in Wales and Scotland these nurses are now the worst paid across the UK. Is it fair? It certainly isn’t.”

Over the weekend, Business Secretary Grant Shapps accused ambulance unions of putting patients’ lives at risk by refusing to notify employers of details of their strike action.

Sir Julian Hartley, chief executive of NHS Providers, said he understood why so many NHS staff had reached a “tipping point”, urging ministers to negotiate with unions and end industrial disputes. He added that 88,000 jobs have already been canceled as a result of the action.

“We are facing a crisis point. Monday’s concerted walkout by nurses and ambulance workers could see the worst disruption yet for the NHS,” he said. “We face a very real risk that hundreds of thousands more patients will have their care disrupted by this double whammy of strikes in the coming days, especially as they come after the weekend when we know the demand for care continues to rise” .

Health Secretary Steve Barclay repeated his call for unions to end their action as he insisted the government could not give in to demands for above-inflation pay.

“The Governor of the Bank of England warned that if we try to beat inflation with higher pay rises, it will get worse and people will not be better off”, he said. “I have held constructive discussions with the trade unions on pay and capacity issues and continue to urge them to call off the strike.”