Health secretary to meet six unions in bid to avert wave of strikes across NHS

Industrial action to begin within weeks unless deals can be reached on unions’ demands for pay awards well above inflation

Unions representing hundreds of thousands of health workers are to meet the health secretary for talks aimed at averting the wave of strikes set to hit the NHS in coming weeks.

Steve Barclay on Monday invited six unions to the “round table” at 10 o’clock the following day at the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC), near the Houses of Parliament in central London, “to discuss workforce issues”.

The invited unions are the Royal College of Nursing (RCN), the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy (CSP) and the Royal College of Midwives (RCM), as well as Unite, Unison and the GMB.

It will be Barclay’s first meeting as a group with the main unions planning to stage strikes across the UK this winter unless ministers give NHS staff a pay rise at least equalling inflation, which is currently at 10.1%. However, he did meet the RCN last Thursday after its ballot result the day before, which came out in favour of nurses going on strike at most hospitals and other places of care, from before Christmas.

Tuesday’s get-together is unlikely to pave the way to a deal, given the gulf between the government and unions over how big an uplift NHS staff deserve. Barclay has offered about 1 million NHS staff at least £1,400 a head for 2022-23, which equates to a rise of 4% to 5%.

Speaking before the meeting, the GMB national secretary, Rachel Harrison, said: “The secretary of state has to make this more than a box-ticking exercise if he wants to avoid an unprecedented winter of NHS strikes.

“The failure to pay staff properly means that the NHS cannot recruit and retain the staff it needs, putting the safety of patients at risk every day. Without urgent action the very future of our health service is on the line.”

At the weekend Barclay dismissed the RCN’s demand that nurses get an increase that is 5% above inflation as “neither reasonable nor affordable”.

“Huge settlements like these would turbocharge inflation when we are endeavouring to keep it under control,” he said.

One union official said of Tuesday’s talks: “We’re not hugely hopeful. I suspect it’s the optics of reaching out and not ignoring the unions. But I suspect there’ll be little substance.”

GMB members who work in the Scottish ambulance service will be the first to go on strike in what could be a prolonged campaign of UK-wide industrial action, potentially lasting months, by NHS unions.

They plan to stage a 26-hour strike between 6am on 28 November and 7.59am the next day, after 89% of GMB members in that service who took part in a ballot backed industrial action.

Up to 3 million operations in England alone may have to be delayed because of the impact of strikes on hospitals, a former DHSC special adviser has estimated.


Denis Campbell Health policy editor

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Three health unions call off strikes in England and agree to pay talks
GMB, Unison and Chartered Society of Physiotherapy take up offer of talks after government concessions

Heather Stewart

03, Mar, 2023 @5:28 PM

Article image
Government accused of insulting workers as ministers hold talks with health, education and rail unions – as it happened
Nurses’ and ambulance strikes to go ahead after latest round of talks failed to make substantial progress

Andrew Sparrow

09, Jan, 2023 @6:16 PM

Article image
Up to 32,000 Unison NHS staff in England to strike on 8 March
Union hits out after it was excluded from talks between health secretary and Royal College of Nursing

Heather Stewart

22, Feb, 2023 @3:52 PM

Article image
RCN accuse government of ‘belligerence’ as talks to avert strike action fail; Wales strikes to go ahead – as it happened
Royal College of Nursing says Steve Barclay refused to discuss pay at meeting on Monday; Welsh nurses to strike after last-minute talks fail

Joe Middleton (now); Andrew Sparrow (earlier)

12, Dec, 2022 @8:32 PM

Article image
Junior doctors blame health secretary for triggering strikes across England
Steve Barclay accused of ‘wasting months’ by failing to meet unions and being dismissive of their demands for improved pay

Denis Campbell Health policy editor

14, Mar, 2023 @6:00 AM

Article image
Revealed: cabinet split over NHS pay disputes piles pressure on Sunak
Health secretary Steve Barclay urges unions to lobby PM over improved pay offer for striking nurses and ambulance workers

Toby Helm Political editor

14, Jan, 2023 @6:00 PM

Article image
Ex-Tory cabinet minister calls on Rishi Sunak to help resolve NHS pay disputes
Politician says PM ‘so focused on hiding in plain sight’ and echoes growing calls for PM to step in to avert strike

Kevin Rawlinson and Aletha Adu

17, Feb, 2023 @12:14 PM

Article image
More NHS strikes to come over ‘pitiful’ pay award as government digs in
Ambulance workers to take further industrial action in January and nurses union also expected to keep up the pressure on ministers

Denis Campbell, Kiran Stacey and Pippa Crerar

22, Dec, 2022 @11:04 PM

Article image
NHS strikes: Steve Barclay expected to announce formal pay offer
Offer to unions involved in strikes in England expected to include one-off payment of up to 6% for this year

Heather Stewart and Jessica Elgot

16, Mar, 2023 @11:47 AM

Article image
Ministers could offer one-off payments as way to end public sector strikes
Strikes must be called off for talks to start, says No 10, as ministers given more freedom to talk to unions

Jessica Elgot, Denis Campbell, Heather Stewart, Pippa Crerar and Richard Adams

22, Feb, 2023 @7:22 PM