ealth Secretary Steve Barclay has said he is “cautiously optimistic” that unions will accept the current pay offer for nurses, despite increasingly heated rhetoric between negotiators.
On Tuesday, unions in the NHS Staff Council will consider the offer of a 5% pay increase for 2023/24 along with a one-off payment worth between £1,655 and £3,789 for the current financial year for nurses in England.
This comes as the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) launched its “biggest strike yet” at 8pm on Sunday, involving thousands of nurses including intensive care and cancer specialists.
Mr Barclay criticised the action as “disrespectful” to the unions meeting on Tuesday, who he believes could accept the pay deal – while RCN general secretary Pat Cullen urged him “not to be disrespectful” to nurses.
The Health Secretary told journalists: “I’m cautiously optimistic that the Staff Council will agree to vote in favour of the deal.
“But I think it’s right to wait until Tuesday for the Staff Council to meet and this strike is premature.
“I think it’s disrespectful to the other trade unions. I think the RCN should have waited. They’re a member of the Staff Council. They were part of the negotiations.”
Meanwhile, Ms Cullen told the PA news agency more strikes could be on the horizon as RCN members vote on further action later this month.
Speaking at a picket outside University College Hospital in central London, she said Mr Barclay had “lost the public and certainly lost any respect that our nursing staff had for him and this Government”.
“What our members are saying to the Secretary of State of this Government is we are not going to go away,” she said.
“We will remain on our picket lines to have a voice heard for our patients.
“We will continue to lose a day’s pay standing on picket lines for our patients, so that’s how important it is to them and they want to have their voice heard.”
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer also urged the Government to “accept responsibility” for the strikes.
Speaking to broadcasters during a visit to Blackpool, Lancashire, he said: “The Government sat on its hands for weeks and weeks and weeks, making a bad situation worse. So everybody wants to see that resolved.
“I think it is important to recognise the underlying causes of this because nurses and many others have seen a real drop in their wages and their living standards because of the cost-of-living crisis, and the Government has got nothing to say to them about that.
“Responsibility here lies at the door of No 10 and they need to accept that responsibility and do something about it.”
The RCN strike, which ends just before midnight, involves nursing staff from A&E, intensive care and cancer care for the first time.
However, exemptions were granted for nurses in the emergency departments of some hospitals, including Great Ormond Street Hospital (GOSH).
Nurses comprise a quarter of NHS staff and are the biggest proportion of the health service workforce.
Healthcare workers are also staging a protest in central London on Monday under Unite.
The union said this demonstration will coincide with a strike by its members from Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust and the Yorkshire Ambulance Service.