Royal College of Nursing ready to 'pause' strikes if Health Secretary agrees to negotiate

Nursing unions are urging the government to properly engage in pay talks. Credit: PA

The Royal College of Nursing has offered to “press pause” on unprecedented strike action next week if health secretary Steve Barclay agrees to negotiate properly on pay.

Up to 100,000 nursing staff are set to take part in the walkouts on December 15 and 20 amid a long-running row over pay and unsafe staffing levels.

However, RCN general secretary Pat Cullen told The Observer that she was willing to halt the strike action in England, Wales and Northern Ireland if Mr Barclay agreed to come to the table to discuss a deal.

The union has accused the health secretary of refusing to properly negotiate on pay, and of deploying “bullyboy” tactics against a largely female workforce.

Health Secretary Steve Barclay has repeatedly said the Government is sticking to the recommendations of the independent pay review body Credit: James Manning/PA

Ms Cullen said: “Negotiate with nurses and avoid this strike. Five times my offer to negotiate has been turned down.

“I will press pause on it when the Health Secretary says he will negotiate seriously on our dispute this year.

“That means each of us giving some ground. He gains nothing by ignoring the representatives of the NHS workforce.

“The public blames Government for this dire situation, and they have to face up to it. A swift change of tactics will pay off for all concerned.”

The Observer also reports that both the RCN and Unison would consider deals similar to those that led to the suspension of strikes in Scotland.

Pat Cullen, head of the Royal College of Nurses, has made a new offer. Credit: PA

Unison general secretary Christina McAnea told the paper: “Rather than scare the public about the consequences of strikes, the Health Secretary should table genuine plans for improving wages.

“Sitting down with health unions and improving the pay on offer has put strikes on hold across Scotland.

“If Steve Barclay were to mirror Holyrood’s approach and commit to boosting wages this year, the threat of pre-Christmas strikes could well be lifted.”

Shadow health secretary Wes Streeting called it “an offer the Government can’t refuse”.

He tweeted that the two trade unions had “been clear that there is a deal to be done, but the Government must be prepared to negotiate”.

“It’s time they put patients before Tory politics,” he added.

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A Department of Health spokesperson said: “NHS workers do an incredible job caring for our loved ones and it is disappointing some will be taking industrial action, ahead of a difficult winter.

“Ministers have had constructive talks with unions, including the RCN and Unison, on how we can make the NHS a better place to work – and have been clear the door remains open for further talks.

“These are extremely challenging times, we have accepted the recommendations of the independent NHS Pay Review Body in full – this means newly qualified nurses have had a 5.5% increase and those on the lowest salaries, such as porters and cleaners, have received a pay rise of up to 9.3%.”