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

The health secretary, Steve Barclay, is expected to announce a formal pay offer to key unions involved in NHS strikes in England, including a one-off payment of up to 6% for this year, in an effort to end months of industrial action.

Last-minute talks between the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) and the unions were understood to be continuing on Thursday morning, but an offer was expected to be made public later in the day.

Two sources suggested it would include an across-the-board payment of up to 6% for 2022-23, and then a permanent pay increase of about 5% for the coming financial year – significantly more than the 3.5% the Treasury had initially suggested was affordable. The payment for this year is expected to be split into two parts – a 2% one off pay award, and a 4% “Covid recovery bonus”.

With inflation expected to fall sharply in the coming months, 5% is highly likely to amount to an above-inflation rise. Ministers had previously said they could not reopen the current year’s pay deal, under which many NHS workers received a flat-rate £1,400 increase.

The chancellor, Jeremy Hunt, said in his budget statement on Wednesday: “High inflation is the root cause of the strikes we have seen in recent months. We will continue to work hard to settle these disputes but only in a way that does not fuel inflation.”

Members of the unions involved, which represent ambulance workers and physiotherapists as well as nurses, would have to approve any offer in a consultation before the strikes could be permanently called off.

The Royal College of Nursing (RCN), which began historic strike action in December, was the first union to decide to suspend industrial action and enter “intensive” negotiations with the government last month. Other unions, including Unison, the GMB and Unite, whose members are part of the same bargaining unit as nurses – known as Agenda for Change – agreed to discussions a few days later. At the time, they were reassured any new offer would involve new money and not have to be funded from existing NHS resources.

The government hopes settling the NHS dispute will be the first step to resolving the waves of industrial action that have hit public services, including education and much of the civil service, from Border Force staff to driving instructors.

It is understood some of the final sticking points in the talks included whether the lowest paid would be given a more substantial uplift.

Some unions had been concerned that the government might try to do a separate deal with the RCN, breaking up the Agenda for Change bargaining unit – but Barclay’s offer is expected to apply to all the hundreds of thousands of workers covered.


Heather Stewart and Jessica Elgot

The GuardianTramp

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