Nurse strike paused for 'intensive talks' with health secretary

Strikes had been scheduled to take place across England. Rachel Younger has the latest

The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) has put its strike plans on pause after the government agreed it would enter "intensive talks" on pay with the union.

The RCN and the government issued a joint statement saying that the talks would focus on “pay, terms and conditions, and productivity enhancing reforms”. Strikes had been set to take place across England from March 1 to March 3, but Health Secretary Steve Barclay is now due to meet with RCN representatives on Wednesday. A joint statement from the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) and the RCN said: “The government and Royal College of Nursing have agreed to enter a process of intensive talks. “Both sides are committed to finding a fair and reasonable settlement that recognises the vital role that nurses and nursing play in the National Health Service and the wider economic pressures facing the United Kingdom and the prime minister’s priority to halve inflation. “The talks will focus on pay, terms and conditions, and productivity enhancing reforms. “The Health Secretary will meet with the Royal College of Nursing on Wednesday to begin talks. The Royal College of Nursing will pause strike action during these talks.”

RCN General Secretary Pat Cullen has said she is confident about reaching an agreement over pay for nurses.

She told broadcadsters that now is the time to "concentrate" on the upcoming talks, which she wants to enter "in good faith".

'We will make sure that no stone is left unturned,' Pat Cullen said of the negotations

"Lets just now concentrate on those talks and make sure that we can bring those to a positive conclusion for every single nurse that has stood on those picket lines for the past three months," Ms Cullen said.

"The prime minister has now got the table prepared - we will be there and we will enter those negotations in good faith as soon as they start."

The next industrial action pencilled in for nurses was on March 1 when they had planned to strike continuously for 48 hours. The action would have also included nursing staff from emergency departments, intensive care units, cancer care and other services that were previously exempted.

It comes as the department submitted its evidence to the NHS Pay Review Body for the 2023/24 financial year.

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Officials said 3.5% pay rise for staff would be affordable for the UK government.

“Through the current financial settlement provided by HM Treasury to the department and reprioritisation decisions, funding is available for pay awards up to 3.5%,” the Department said in its submission document. “Pay awards above this level would require trade-offs for public service delivery or further government borrowing at a time when headroom against fiscal rules is historically low and sustainable public finances are vital in the fight against inflation.” The NHS Pay Review Body is responsible for making recommendations on the pay of more than one million NHS staff paid under the Agenda for Change contract. Their recommendations cover all staff employed in the NHS across the UK, but they do not make recommendations on the pay for doctors, dentists and very senior managers. A similar recommendation has been made for doctors and dentists.

Meanwhile, the education secretary has written to teaching unions to invite them to build on "constructive discussions" that have already taken place over pay and conditions.

“Our hope is that we can find a fair and reasonable settlement that recognises the vital role teachers play, while acknowledging the wider economic pressures facing the country and the government’s priority to halve inflation," a Department for Education spokesperson said. “A condition of these talks will be that the National Education Union calls off next week’s strike action.”

Regional walkouts by National Education Union members have been planned for February 28, March 1 and March 2, with national strike action planned for March 15 and March 16. The union previously rejected a pay offer – where teachers were offered an extra 1.5% on this year’s 5% pay award, as well as a 1.5% one-off payment.

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