NHS pay deal wins backing of most staff representatives in England

The UK government will implement a pay deal for NHS England workers in the teeth of continuing opposition by the main nursing union after it was accepted by a majority of staff representatives.

Several NHS unions voted on Tuesday to accept the government’s offer, which will award staff one-off payments worth up to £3,789 for 2022-23 and a 5 per cent wage increase for 2023-24.

Health secretary Steve Barclay said the vote at the NHS Staff Council, a body that brings unions and employers together with the government, showed that “a majority of NHS staff agree this is a fair and reasonable deal”.

He urged members of unions that had rejected the offer to “recognise this as a fair outcome . . . and decide it is time to bring industrial action to an end”.

Ministers see the vote as a significant step towards resolving a series of pay disputes that have triggered strikes across the public sector over the past year, adding to intense strains on health services, closing schools and disrupting travel, while adding to post-pandemic administrative backlogs.

However, the government remains far from mending relations, even with unions that have accepted the pay deal. Meanwhile, it faces the threat of further strikes by nurses and other NHS workers whose unions have rejected the deal, as well as by doctors locked in separate pay disputes.

Sara Gorton: ‘This pay deal must be the start of something new in the NHS’
Sara Gorton, chair of the union group on the NHS Staff Council: ‘This pay deal must be the start of something new in the NHS’ © Belinda Jiao/PA

“This pay deal must be the start of something new in the NHS,” said Sara Gorton, chair of the union group on the NHS Staff Council, adding that the service remained “desperately short” of staff and resources.

Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, which speaks for health organisations, recognised that implementation of the pay deal was “very positive”.

But, Taylor added, it was “not the line in the sand” that would allow the health service “to confidently move on from the threat of future strikes, or from the underlying issues affecting the NHS”.

The Royal College of Nursing, whose latest action at hospitals across England ended on Monday, must now hold a fresh ballot to renew its six-month strike mandate.

Pat Cullen, RCN general secretary, wrote to Barclay on Tuesday saying the union would ballot 280,000 members seeking a mandate “across the full NHS”, where it had previously been able to strike at about half of NHS trusts and employers.

Unite, whose NHS members also voted to reject the pay deal, said it intended to escalate strikes in the NHS trusts where it already has a mandate, while opening new ballots “for those NHS workers who want to take a stand”.

Meanwhile, Barclay met on Tuesday afternoon with the British Medical Council in an attempt to break a deadlock over junior doctors’ pay. The BMA, whose junior doctor members staged a four-day strike last month, has said that senior consultants could soon join their junior colleagues in taking action if the government does not make them a better pay offer.

It is also preparing to ballot general practitioners on potential strike action after the government imposed new contract terms the BMA described last week as “unsafe” and “insulting”.

“The NHS isn’t out of the woods yet,” said Julian Hartley, chief executive of NHS Providers, which represents health service leaders.

He said the NHS needed to see a “firm commitment from the government” that the pay deal would be fully funded, along with a fully costed and funded long-term plan to tackle chronic understaffing and other problems such as burnout.


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