A pay deal has been agreed between the UK government and health unions aimed at ending the biggest wave of industrial action to hit the NHS in decades.
After weeks of negotiations, the Royal College of Nursing, GMB and Unison, along with the Chartered Society of Physiotherapists and the British Dietetic Association, have recommended their members accept an offer that falls far below their original ambitions but represents a significant advance on terms previously offered.
It would give health workers in England a new non-consolidated payment worth 2 per cent of their wages in 2022-23, with an additional bonus of at least £1,250, depending on their pay band and experience.
In 2023-24, there will then be a consolidated pay award of 5 per cent, with a bigger increase for the lowest paid.
The action, which began in December, has led to the cancellation of tens of thousands of appointments and operations across the health service.
Health leaders, who have already had to prune back plans to afford the pay settlement recommended by the independent pay review body last year, were worried that a more generous offer would further strain limited budgets.
The government said on Thursday it “can guarantee that there will be no impact on frontline services or the quality of care that patients receive as a result of this pay offer”.
However, chancellor Jeremy Hunt did not announce fresh funding for public sector pay in the Budget on Wednesday.
Matthew Taylor, head of the NHS Confederation which represents organisations across the health service, warned the devil would be in the detail.
Leaders would be “keen for the government to explain the full mechanics of how this award will be funded”. Any funding for the award should not come out of already stretched NHS budgets, “otherwise it will be a situation where we are robbing Peter to pay Paul with patients bearing the costs”, he added.
The Royal College of Nursing began by asking for 5 per cent above retail price inflation, which stood at 13.4 per cent in January. Other unions, including Unison and the GMB, wanted pay rises to at least match inflation.
Unite, which represents some of the ambulance workers who have taken strike action, said it would not recommend the offer to members.
However, the 5 per cent uplift offered for 2023-24 means that NHS staff would make up some of the ground they lost this year, if the Office for Budget Responsibility proves correct in its latest forecast that inflation will fall to 2.9 per cent by the end of this year.
Pat Cullen, general secretary of the RCN, said that as well as winning extra pay, the union had “made real progress” on safe staffing measures, a new pay structure for nursing, support for newly qualified staff and pensions.
Sara Gorton, head of health at Unison and lead negotiator for the unions on the NHS Staff Council, said the deal was “better than having to wait many more months” for the pay review body to issue recommendations.
Rachel Harrison, national secretary of the GMB union, said the offer was “far from perfect” but that it was “the best that can be achieved at this stage” and met a key demand of the union to keep the lowest paid well above the voluntary Real Living Wage, not just the statutory minimum.
A deal would end one of the most damaging of the many pay disputes that have led to strike action across the public sector in recent months.
However, there is no sign of progress yet in a separate pay dispute with junior doctors belonging to the British Medical Association and the smaller Hospital Consultants and Specialists Association.
Doctors are currently on the third day of their own 72 hours of industrial action and have so far declined to enter talks with health secretary Steve Barclay, saying they cannot accept his preconditions.
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