Royal College of Nursing members will strike on 15 and 20 December at employers across England, Northern Ireland and Wales “after the UK government rejected our offer of formal negotiations”. NHS staff members of Unison, GMB and Unite could join them in coordinated action on 20 December.

The health secretary, Steve Barclay invited six unions to the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC), “to discuss workforce issues”, but trade unions attending suggested that Barclay had “sidestepped” the key issues of pay and patients safety.

In a joint statement afterwards, the unions reported telling the secretary of state that “patient waits for treatment would carry on worsening, unless something was done about the dangerously low staffing levels affecting every part of the NHS.”, and making it clear that ”decent wages are key to stopping employees leaving and to turning the NHS into an attractive employer for potential recruits.”

Commenting on the meeting, UNISON head of health and chair of the NHS unions Sara Gorton said: “There can be no solution to the damaging workforce crisis unless the government improves NHS pay.”  

Unite national officer for health Colenzo Jarrett-Thorpe said: “The government must put forward a better pay deal and one that is not funded from already mercilessly squeezed budgets?”

Action will not take place in at least 40% of NHS locations as turnout was below the 50% legal minimum. 

In July, the government in Westminster announced that most NHS staff on Agenda for Change contracts (NHS terms and conditions) in England would get a pay rise of £1,400, in line with the recommendation of the NHS pay review body – 4% for nursing grades.

Progress in Scotland?

The RCNs strike plans in Scotland have been paused after the Scottish government committed to formal negotiations over pay. An initial offer of 5% was increased to a flat rate increase of £2,200, or 8% for a newly trained nurse but was rejected by the RCN. Talks have renewed after Nicola Sturgeon met with Pat Cullen, the general Secretary of the RCN. 

For staff in some of the lowest paid, the latest offer would represent an 11% rise, and is worth 7.5 across all pay bands. UNISON, who represent 50,000 health staff including nurses, midwives, cleaners and porters, is recommending their members accept it, as the “largest ever” rise for the lowest paid.  

Wilma Brown, chair of UNISON Scotland’s health committee, said: “We have decided to recommend this offer to our members, as we believe it’s the best that can be achieved through negotiations. It will go some way to helping NHS members with the cost-of-living crisis. 

“However, as we have said to the Scottish government, there’s a huge amount of work to do to get our NHS back to being world class again. This must be the start of the reforms and investment needed to get the NHS back to full health.” 

Breakthrough deals for NHS staff

Earlier this month the health union Unite announced that a deal with Barts Health trust had been secured to bring linen and laundry staff back in house from May next year. Staff will receive significantly improved terms and conditions in the move away from the outsourced service currently provided by Synergy.

“Not only will workers get a pay boost up to 17 per cent, they will also get NHS terms and conditions going forward.

Back in March Unite struck another agreement  to bring 1,800 NHS workers employed by the outsourcing company Serco back into NHS employment. The Trust’s board confirmed that the change will take place when the current contract with Serco expires at the end of April 2023.

Cleaners, porters, security guards, and domestic staff will be transferred across to join the existing 17,000 Barts Health staff as NHS employees under Agenda for Change (AfC) conditions.


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