An offer to pay the NHS 5% could end a bitter dispute in England

  • Posted by Nick Triggle
  • Health reporter

A 5% pay rise from April has been introduced for NHS staff in England, including nurses and ambulance workers.

In addition, staff have been offered a one-off payment of at least £1,655 to supplement last year’s bonus.

Unions are recommending members support the deal, after nearly two weeks of talks with ministers, raising hopes that the bitter row may be drawing to a close.

The offer covers all NHS staff with the exception of doctors on various contracts.

Health Secretary Steve Barclay said this was a “fair wage increase” that would protect the government’s commitment to halving inflation.

“I am so impressed by the amazing work of the NHS staff,” he said. “I look forward to continuing our work together to make the NHS a better place to work.”

Barkley said there had been movement on both sides and praised the unions’ “constructive engagement”.

14 unions were represented at the talks covering:

  • nurses
  • Ambulance staff
  • Physical therapists
  • midwives
  • Support staff, including cleaners and porters

The big three – the Royal College of Nursing, Unison and GMB – support the deal, while Unite the Union said it could not recommend it to members but would put it to a vote.

Uniformed Health chief Sarah Gorton said: “It’s a shame it took so long to get here.

Gorton added that if its members accepted the deal, it would mean a “significant” wage increase.

“The members made the toughest decisions to strike and I believe they have been vindicated today,” said RCN General Secretary Pat Cullen.

It comes after a winter of industrial strike, with nurses, ambulance staff and medical workers.

The unions suspended further measures after the two sides agreed to hold discussions last month.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said he was “delighted” with the wage agreement during a visit to a hospital in London on Thursday afternoon.

Despite criticism from opposition parties and unions for weeks about the government’s “indecision and delay” leading to more strikes, Mr Sunak said: “We have taken a sensible approach all along”.

He also described the salary as “affordable to taxpayers and continues to live up to my promise of halving inflation.”

photo caption,

Mr Sunak and Mr Barclay visited a hospital in London on Thursday.

A Downing Street spokesperson later added that the government did not believe the wage supply would be inflationary.

When asked about the fact that he said, earlier in the dispute, that giving more than 3.5% wages could lead to an increase in inflation, Mr Sunak’s deputy spokesman said he did not think that would happen with this deal, adding: “We don’t believe it.” We do not believe that the one-time payments for 22/23 will create inflationary pressures in the future.”

Asked if the money to fund the increase should come from the existing NHS/Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) budget, the spokesperson insisted the front line service would not be harmed and discussions were ongoing between the Department of Homeland Security and the Treasury.

When asked about more money for the NHS to fund the deal, the spokesperson again said discussions would take place with the Treasury.

However, shadow health minister Wes Streeting criticized the “last-minute” nature of the offer, describing the government as “incompetent” and saying that Barclay “doesn’t know how he’s going to pay for it”.

“Even when they come up with a solution, it’s too late to cause a new wave of problems.”

NHS staff saw wages increase by an average of 4.75% during 2022-23 – with the lowest paid getting the largest increases – but unions have been asking for increases above inflation, which at one point, would have equated to an increase of more than 14%.

The one-off payment to mobilize this bonus starts at £1,655 for lower paid staff such as cleaners and porters and goes up to just over £2,400 for frontline senior roles such as nurse consultants.

For staff in management positions, such as nursing directors and chief financial officers, the one-off payment is up to £3,789.

The government had originally offered 3.5% of April for the 2023-24 financial year – but during talks, ministers agreed to 5%. The least profitable will get more.

He also urged the British Medical Association to get into talks – junior doctors staged a three-day walkout this week, in their fight for a 35% pay rise.

They say this is necessary to offset lower wage rises than inflation over the past 15 years – but ministers say it is unsustainable.

Ministers offered to hold BMA talks on the same basis as with other unions – but she refused.

Strikes have also been paused in Wales and Scotland by most unions while new offers are considered. GMB in Scotland has accepted the Scottish offer, at a value of 14% over two years.

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