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UK Government to ignore nurses’ offer to ‘press pause’ on strikes for pay talks

11 Dec 2022 4 minute read
Staff on a NHS hospital ward. PA Images, Peter Byrne

An offer by nursing trade unions to “press pause” on planned strikes before Christmas is set to go unheeded by the UK Government, senior UK Government Cabinet ministers have signalled.

The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) has offered to suspend the proposed action if Health Secretary Steve Barclay agrees to negotiate properly on pay.

The strike is expected to cause major disruption to the health service in the run-up to Christmas, with ambulance workers also set to strike on December 21.

Nurses and other nursing staff will take action at every NHS employer except one in Wales, half of the locations in England where the legal mandate was reached for strikes, and throughout Northern Ireland.

Last month, the Royal College of Nursing confirmed that nursing staff at the majority of NHS employers in Wales voted to take strike action over pay levels and patient safety concerns.

The war of words between nursing unions and the UK Government increased this week, as the planned strike action approaches.

RCN general secretary Pat Cullen, whose members are due to take part in unprecedented strike action on December 15 and December 20, made the offer to pause the walkout in exchange for pay talks on Saturday night after earlier this week accusing the Health Secretary of deploying “bullyboy” tactics.


On the BBC’s Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg programme, Ms Cullen said she is willing to be flexible but denied her trade union’s position has changed.

“What I am saying is the Health Secretary can choose negotiation over picket lines,” she said.

“My door is open, I am offering conciliation (through the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service) and we can start that from tomorrow morning. I won’t dig in if he doesn’t dig in.”

She said it was “despicable” that UK nurses were the “lowest paid in Europe”.

She added: “The one day of action that nurses are going to take hasn’t created the 7.2 million people in our waiting lists, the NHS has been in crisis for many, many years, and what state would it be in if those nurses were not working those additional unpaid hours they do?

“Nurses aren’t greedy people. They are not asking for an incredible pay rise, they are asking just to be able to make ends meet.”

No money

RCN Wales remains in a pay dispute with Welsh Government since October 2021 over its 3% pay award for NHS Wales nursing staff.

Last week, the Welsh health minister said there is no money to increase a pay offer to NHS staff in order to avert industrial action in Wales without UK Government intervention.

Eluned Morgan, the Welsh Government Health and Social Services minister, told the Senedd she was “saddened” by the prospect of industrial action but without investment from Westminster the pay offer could not be increased.

The Royal College of Nurses has paused formal announcement of strike action in Scotland after the Scottish Government has reopened pay negotiations.

Plaid Cymru Leader Adam Price said that the Welsh Government should follow suit and use all the powers they have to secure an improved pay offer for NHS nurses in Wales.


Foreign Secretary James Cleverly on Sunday robustly defended the independent review process that the UK Government has insisted should determine pay increases, as he appeared to rule out Mr Barclay entering talks on nurses’ salaries.

“He has said he is willing to meet them,” the Cabinet minister told Sky News.

“Meetings are different from pay negotiation.

“Ultimately, independent bodies are there for a reason – it is to take the politics out of this sort of stuff.”

Meanwhile, Mr Barclay used an editorial for the Sun on Sunday to criticise the planned strikes amid serious pressures on the NHS.

“In a winter when we’re worrying about Covid, flu and Strep A – on top of the Covid backlogs – I am deeply concerned about the risks of strike action to patients,” Mr Barclay said.

“We are working hard to make sure patients experience as little disruption as possible. But with the NHS already under pressure due to the Covid pandemic and coming winter, the risks to patients will be significant,” he wrote.

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