As talks continue between the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) and government ministers, other health unions have expressed frustration with their exclusion from talks and the recommendation of a 3.5% pay rise.
This week the RCN and Government jointly announced an agreement to ‘enter a process of intensive talks’ to focus on issues of pay and terms and conditions, after the RCN made preparations to escalate strike action.
However, other health unions including GMB, Unison and Royal College of Midwives (RCM) have expressed their frustration with the Government’s decision to not include other unions in the negotiations.
RCM executive director Dr Suzanne Tyler described the Government as using a ‘divide and rule tactic’ in their dealings with the NHS and called on Westminster to ‘focus on all NHS staff and negotiate with all of their unions’.
Unison’s head of health, Sara Gorton. said that there could be ‘no pick-and-mix solution.’
‘Choosing to speak to one union and not others won’t stop the strikes and could make a bad situation much worse. By holding solo talks, the Prime Minister is condemning patients to many more months of disruption. Health workers will want assurances from ministers that they have no intention of ripping up pay agreements in the NHS. Any attempt to do so, would be an incredibly serious move.’
The announcement of talks was welcomed by some as valuable step forward towards reconciliation over the pay dispute.
Danny Mortimer, chief executive of NHS Employers, commented: ‘It is a positive development that there will be substantive negotiations with the RCN. NHS Employers will do everything in our power to support a constructive outcome to the talks with the RCN, as well with other trade unions.’
The health unions also expressed dissatisfaction with the Government this week after ministers recommended that public sector workers including nurses be offered a pay rise of 3.5% in the next year.
In published evidence submitted to the independent NHS pay review body, various government departments have made recommendations for the level of pay rise that should be offered.
The Treasury has argued that anything above 5% would fuel inflation, while 3.5% was affordable.
This comes after the Scottish Government offered nurses and other NHS workers a pay rise of 6.5% for 2023-24.
GMB Union said that minister’s pay recommendations were ‘a disgrace’, while Ms Gorton of Unison said: ‘“If the government was actively trying to worsen the crisis in the NHS, it couldn’t have done better than this.’
Meanwhile, while the RCN has paused planned 48-hour strikes, a number of other health unions are preparing to take industrial action.
In the results of a reballot of Unison members on February 20th, five NHS employers and four ambulance services – including NHS Blood and Transplant – hit the legal threshold for industrial action and gained a mandate to strike.
The British Medical Association (BMA) also announced a 72-hour strike next month for junior doctors, including a full stoppage of work by striking junior doctors including on night shifts.
NHS Providers director of policy Miriam Deakin said that this would ‘will have significant ramifications for patient care.’
Ms Deakin said :’The effects will also be compounded by the HSCA junior doctors’ strike and hot on the heels of walkouts by ambulance workers. This unprecedented scale of industrial action in the NHS threatens to cause serious disruption to patients, which is the last thing anyone wants. It will also likely hamper the hard efforts of NHS staff to tackle backlogs and meet elective targets.’