The two key things government promised unions to halt strikes

Two unions called off strikes next week after the government agreed to get round the negotiating table. Credit: PA

Some ambulance strikes have been suspended for intensive talks with the government - and two key things were promised by ministers today by the sounds of it.

The first, that a one-off payment for this year 22/23 will be new money - so not from the existing health budget - and the second, the Agenda for Change structure will be respected.

That second point is important because health unions, including Unison, GMB, Unite etc, were furious about the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) having unilateral enticement and talks.

This suggests the RCN will have to be part of this process rather than continuing separate talks.

How close are we to seeing some kind of resolution in the pay dispute between the government and unions representing ambulance staff? ITV News Political Correspondent Carl Dinnen explains

Health unions have been worried that government might try to break the contract and give nurses special treatment, leaving their members behind. So that will be a big relief to them.

Also, funding from the Treasury and not the Department of Health was a demand from unions today.

But there is a warning from the unions today that the strikes will “return with vengeance” if talks break down.

The key promise from government was that they would discuss this year as well as next year.

A key promise from the unions is to suspend strikes for the duration of talks.

It comes just a day after we revealed that the GMB union were going to escalate their action next week, responding to fewer category 2 calls (which can include heart attacks and strokes).

Rachel Harrison, of the GMB, argued that the RCN got talks after their escalation. Today she says that less than 24 hours after GMB members also announced a tightening of the derogations for cover on strike days, they received a letter from the health secretary, Steve Barclay.

"This is a huge shift from the Government, who for months have refused to consider negotiations on pay. Now, they are saying they are willing to sit down and talk," she said.

It also comes after Unison wrote to the health secretary to say unilateral talks with the RCN were unacceptable.

Today, Sara Gorton from Unison, who chairs the NHS group of unions, said talks should have started long ago and if they had, days of disruption for the NHS and patients would have been avoided.

"The sad thing is this could have been handled so differently," she said. "Whether the talks signal the beginning of the end of the current dispute will emerge in the coming days. If a deal can be reached, strikes can end and everyone can work together again to ensure the NHS gets back on track.

"However, when we get in the room, we'll quickly learn whether the talks can be meaningful. If not, Unison will be forced to resume strike action. Nobody wants that."

To be clear, three unions have postponed strikes - Unison, GMB and physios. But Unite are not stopping theirs. So, 3,000 ambulance members will still be out on Monday. They say 22/23 being a non consolidate (so one off, not rolling into salary) year isn’t good enough.

And this could still be a sticking point in talks for other unions - a one-off payment was also not good enough for the National Education Union.

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