Nurses’ union could accept 10% pay rise as government dismisses previous demand as ‘unaffordable’

The Royal College of Nursing initially called for a 19% pay increase

The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) could be willing to accept a pay rise of around 10% to end its ongoing dispute with the government.

The union’s leader has said she would be willing to “meet the government halfway” after the demand for a 19% pay increase has previously been dismissed as “unaffordable”.

General secretary of the RCN Pat Cullen said the 19% pay rise demand is simply a “starting point” and she would put any new offer to her members. It is understood that the union could be willing to accept a pay rise of about 10%, according to the PA news agency.

In an interview with Times Radio’s Past Imperfect podcast, reported by The Times, Ms Cullen said: “There is a rhetoric out there that says the Royal College of Nursing is unrealistic, it’s looking for something that’s totally unachievable, it’s looking for 19%.

“Now, I could sit here all day and tell you nurses’ pay has dropped by 20% over the last decade. Do I believe those nurses are entitled (to 19%)? Absolutely, I believe they’re entitled to 19%.

“But we also understand the economic climate that we’re working in. And what I would say to (Health Secretary) Steve Barclay and to the Prime Minister is get into a room and meet me halfway here and do the decent thing for these nurses.”

The Royal College of Nursing could be willing to accept a pay rise of around 10% (Photo: Getty Images)

Thousands of nurses walked out on 15 and 20 December, and the RCN has said its members will strike again on 18 and 19 January unless negotiations are opened.

The planned action would take place at more NHS employers in England than the previous strikes, increasing from 44 to 55 trusts, the RCN has said. The union has also warned that strike action could continue over the next six months unless an agreement can be reached.

In response to the demands, a Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “The Health and Social Care Secretary wants to have an honest conversation with the RCN about what is affordable in pay settlements for next year during these challenging times, and is keen to meet for discussions as soon as possible.

“We have accepted the recommendations of the independent NHS Pay Review Body in full and have given over one million NHS workers a pay rise of at least £1,400 this year. This is on top of a 3% pay increase last year when public sector pay was frozen and wider government support with the cost of living.”

‘Door is always open’ for talks, Sunak says

The Prime Minister has said the “door is always open” for talks with trade unions representing healthcare workers ahead of a fresh wave of strikes in bitter pay disputes.

Rishi Sunak spoke about coming from an NHS family in his first speech of 2023 this week as he thanked staff for the “incredible job they do”.

He also defended the government’s record, telling reporters: “We have found extra money for the NHS and social care. I think that was recognised by many independent people at the time of the autumn statement, that we have prioritised the NHS, that we have listened and put more funding in.”

Sunak defended the independent pay process, which has come under criticism from unions representing nurses and ambulance workers who are due to strike again this month.

He said: “The RCN (Royal College of Nursing), I think, were one of the people who called for it in the 80s, that there should be an independent pay review body process, and the government has respected those decisions.

“We’re always happy to have a dialogue. The door is always open. We’re talking about the process for next year. That’s exactly the kind of thing we should be sitting down and talking through, and it’s not just about pay.”

The PM said he is open to holding conversations with nurses to avert further strike action, but insisted the union demands for a 19% pay rise are “not affordable”. Taking a question on how his administration would look to solve the dispute and whether bolstering holiday allocation or pension bonuses is on the cards, the Prime Minister said: “When it comes to dialogue, I repeat what I’ve said before: the door is always open for dialogue.

“We want to have good, two-way, open, honest conversations – those have to be rooted in what’s reasonable, what’s affordable, what’s responsible for the country. I’m keen to have those conversations.

“As I’ve said on pay, those conversations need to be based on what’s affordable. I think a 19% pay rise is not affordable – I don’t think anyone thinks a 19% pay rise is affordable. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have dialogue, shouldn’t have conversations.”