- By Nick Triggle, Health Correspondent and Hugh Pym, Health Editor
- BBC news
Nurses in England have suspended next week’s 48-hour strike as they restart talks with the government over pay.
The Royal College of Nursing and the Department of Health and Social Care issued a joint statement saying they would begin “intensive” negotiations.
Health Secretary Steve Barclay is due to meet union representatives on Wednesday.
The RCN originally asked for a 5% above-inflation pay rise, but has since said it would be willing to meet the government halfway.
Next week’s walkout, from 1.-3. March, was to be the biggest strike in the winter’s pay dispute, with half of frontline services affected.
The action would include nursing staff from emergency departments, intensive care units, cancer care and other services that were previously exempt.
‘Sigh of relief’
Ministers had for months refused to discuss adding to the 2022-23 pay award of 4.75% on average for nurses and other staff.
The RCN, for its part, had made it a line in the sand – and it is reasonable to assume that the union’s leader, Pat Cullen, would not have entered the new talks if there had not been a softening of the government’s stance.
It told the NHS pay review body it was willing to give a 3.5% rise. But that does not rule out going higher than this.
No one is confirming the exact scope of Wednesday’s discussions, but it seems likely that some sort of payment to add to the existing award this year will be on the table.
A source close to the negotiations said the door had been opened for next year’s salary award to be backdated.
The joint statement said: “The Government and the RCN have agreed to enter into a process of intensive talks.
“Both sides are committed to finding a fair and reasonable settlement that recognizes the important role that nurses and nursing staff play in the NHS and the wider economic pressures facing the UK and the Prime Minister’s priority to halve inflation.
“The Health Secretary will meet with the RCN on Wednesday to start talks. The RCN will put the strike on hold during those talks.”
Sir Julian Hartley, chief executive of NHS Providers, which represents healthcare leaders, said they would “breathe a sigh of relief” at the news.
“Recent weeks have seen a worrying escalation of industrial action, which has hit patients hard. This is the glimmer of hope we all needed.”
However, other health associations are frustrated at not being drawn into this process.
The NHS faces further industrial action from unions representing ambulance drivers to junior doctors, and more dates may yet be announced.
The Scottish Government has offered NHS staff – including nurses – a new pay offer for the coming year which includes a one-off payment and an average pay rise of 6.5% from April.