More strikes to come as unions left 'disappointed' by NHS pay talks with Welsh Government

Nurses went on strike for the first time in the Royal College of Nursing's 106-year history before Christmas. Credit: PA Images

Health unions in Wales have expressed disappointment following a meeting with the Health Minister to discuss a one-off payment for NHS workers.

Following the talks, the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) said the Welsh Government was not "negotiating seriously" when it comes to pay for nurses.

It comes after the first NHS strike of 2023 went ahead on Wednesday, with around 1,500 ambulance workers from the GMB union walking out across Wales.

Earlier this week, the Welsh Government announced it would offer a single, non-continuous payment in a bid to prevent further strikes over pay and conditions.

Following Thursday's talks, unions including Unite, Unison and the RCN told ITV Wales that amounts were discussed, but no set pay offer was decided.

The unions said while they were pleased the Welsh Government has opened negotiations, without the offer of a permanent pay rise, members will continue to strike.

It means more than 1,000 ambulance workers who are members of Unite will still walk out for two 24-hour strikes on 19 January and 23 January.

The RCN, whose members went on strike for the first time in its 106-year history on two dates before Christmas, said it will be "announcing further strike dates imminently".

Richard Munn, from Unite Cymru, said: "Our members have made it really clear to us that what they want from these talks is an increased salary.

Royal College of Nursing (RCN) members in Wales have been striking over pay Credit: PA Images

"This is not only because they've had an erosion of the salary over the years, there is also the issue of staff shortages across the NHS.

"Without addressing salaries, long-term pay, that will not be addressed. The problems that run from staff shortages are patient care, which we're very concerned about, and flowing from that is increased stress and pressure on our members.

"Whilst we welcome Welsh Government trying, and we do believe they've tried hard to get to this and far more than UK Government have done with NHS unions in England, we don't feel and we've never felt that a one-off payment is enough."

The UK Government also held meetings with public sector unions on Thursday in an effort to call a halt to waves of strike action.

During a meeting with NHS leaders, Health Secretary Steve Barclay was warned by doctors he must address the "workforce crisis".

More than 300,000 members of the RCN were balloted over strike action Credit: PA Images

The Welsh Government has repeatedly said it cannot make a new pay offer to NHS workers without additional funding from the UK Government.

But the director of the RCN Wales doesn't buy that argument.

Helen Whyley said: "Of course we would like to see Westminster flowing through to Wales, absolutely.

"But for us the essential point here is about resolving the issues in Wales, for Welsh nurses in Welsh hospitals dealing with the Welsh public.

"Health is a devolved matter and the government has the ability to control that budget, and in our view they need to make sure that they focus on nursing pay as a top priority if they want to deal with the pressures that we're currently experiencing in NHS Wales."

Jess Turner, head of bargaining for Unison Cymru Wales, felt Thursday's talks were "the start of negotiations and perhaps the basis for a future discussion".

"Currently we don't have anything we can put to our membership but we have engaged positively today and that's the spirit in which we'll continue.

"What I would say from today, it has shone a light on the fact that we think Westminster needs to step up and do the same.

"Scotland have engaged with trade unions to talk about this year's pay, and Wales are now engaging with trade unions to talk about this year's pay.

"But to actually unlock the money that's really needed to resolve pay in the longer term, those discussions have got to now take place at Westminster level as well."

In response to the talks the Welsh Conservative Shadow Health Minister Russell George MS said:

“It is utterly shameful for the Labour Government in Cardiff Bay to play politics in talks with nurses unions like this – to try it in the Senedd is one thing but to do it to the face of nurses is extraordinary.

"I am glad the RCN is highlighting that Labour are responsible for NHS pay after being in charge of Welsh healthcare for 26 years, but they should get a proper conversation with Drakeford and his ministers, not poor excuses.

“It is clear that this is just a game for Labour who want good press for meeting with nurses but without having to actually have a serious negotiation. It is totally disingenuous.

“If Labour do not act properly, then we will not be able to tackle the slowest ambulance response times on record, nor Britain’s worst A&E waits and longest NHS treatment list.”

Meanwhile, Welsh Liberal Democrat Leader Jane Dodds MS said:

“The RCN are absolutely right to highlight that the Welsh Government cannot simply blame Westminster for everything, they have a range of powers they could use to find a resolution and make healthcare staff an offer that is fair and helps to resolve the recruitment and retention crisis.

“With it having being revealed today that NHS Wales spent an astronomical £260 million on agency and bank staff in the last year, it is more vital than ever that full-time NHS are retained and reliance on agency staff is not increased any further.”

During Prime Minister's questions on Wednesday, Rishi Sunak said that the Welsh Government has enough funding to deal with problems in the NHS and receives "more funding than the NHS in England."

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