Nurse and ambulance worker strikes have been called off, with the government and the NHS Staff Council wrapping up negotiations and reaching a final offer, a government spokesman says.
Unions representing hundreds of thousands of British health workers have been locked in talks all week with the Department of Health and ministers, to try to break the deadlock and resolve a long-running dispute involving nurses, ambulance staff, and other NHS workers.
While recent nurses and paramedic strikes were called off while the talks were held, the pay row has been ongoing for some time. A strike on 6 February was the biggest walkout in NHS history, with nurses, paramedics, call handlers, drivers and technicians all taking part- a step up from the December walkouts.
On Thursday, the government put forward a new offer - which a spokesman has now confirmed included additional pay for 2022-23, and a pay settlement for 2023-24.
The spokesman said both sides believed it represented “a fair and reasonable settlement” that acknowledges the dedication of NHS staff, while also acknowledging the wider economic pressures currently facing the UK.
“Those unions with mandates for industrial action, RCN, Unison, GMB, CSP, Unite and BDA, will now consult their members in consultations that will be held over the coming weeks. Strike action will continue to be paused while these ballots are ongoing,” the spokesman said.
Health Secretary Steve Barclay said the offer amounts to "a fair pay rise". "I hugely admire the incredible work of NHS staff, including during the pandemic and the progress they have made to tackle the resulting backlog... This offer will give nurses, paramedics, physiotherapists and other non-medical staff a fair pay rise while protecting our commitment to halve inflation."
Barclay said the offer includes a permanent, blanket 5% pay rise for 2023/24 and an “additional lump sum” for this year, meaning a newly qualified nurse would get an extra £1,800 this year on top of the existing deal and a pay rise of more than £1,300 next year.
The lump-sum payment would rise in value up the NHS pay bands. It is worth £1,655 for staff at the bottom of band two - like porters, cleaners and healthcare assistants - £2,009 for staff at the top of band five - like nurses, midwives, and physiotherapists - £2,162 at the top of band six - like paramedics, health visitors, senior occupational therapists - and £3,789 for staff at the top of band nine. Unison said the lowest pay point in the NHS will now be £11.45 an hour – 55p higher than the voluntary real living wage.
Barclay added that funding for the pay deal would not come at the expense of patients. "Obviously how these things are funded are a matter for the Chancellor... [But] We have been very clear in terms of the discussions we have had with the trade unions this will not come from patient-facing aspects.
"Of course we will look at areas of underspend, areas of administrative saving and discuss these things with the Treasury in the usual way," he said.
Barclay called on striking junior doctors to follow the other health unions' example, saying government had offered them the same terms. "A request from them for a pay rise of 35% is not affordable. That is why we need to see from them the same sort of leadership that we have seen from the trade unions in the Agenda for Change contract.”
Royal College of Nursing general secretary Pat Cullen said members took "the hardest of decisions" to go on strike, but she believed they have been vindicated today. She advised each member to look closely at what it meant for them, before voting.
"After tough negotiations, there are a series of commitments here that our members can see will make a positive impact on the nursing profession, the NHS and the people who rely on it," she said. "As well as the additional money now, we have made real progress with the Government on safe staffing measures, a new pay structure for nursing, support for newly qualified staff and pensions too."
Although it would still be put out to ballot, some unions - like Unite - took a less favourable view of the offer. "The offer... is not one that Unite can recommend to our members, but ultimately it is important that our members make the final decision," general secretary Sharon Graham said.
"Unite will support members in whichever decision they now make," she said. "[But] it is clear that this Government does not hold the interest of workers or the NHS at heart. Their behaviour and disdain for NHS workers and workers generally is clear from their actions. Britain has a broken economy and workers are paying the price."
Up north, GMB Scotland - which represents staff in the NHS and Scottish Ambulance Service - said its members accepted the improved pay offer by a majority of 59.7%.
Health Secretary Humza Yousaf has been locked in negotiations with health unions in recent months amid the threat of industrial action. The GMB, the Royal College of Midwives (RCM), and the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) suspended the announcement of strike action earlier this year to consider the new offer. Both the RCN and the RCM are currently balloting their members, with the recommendation to accept the deal.
The pay offer made to 160,000 NHS staff, including nurses, midwives and paramedics, equates to an average 6.5% increase in 2023/24. The offer is on top of the imposed pay rise already allocated for 2022/23, meaning many staff could receive a consolidated 13 to 14% pay increase over a two-year period.
GMB Scotland senior organiser for public services Keir Greenaway welcomed the acceptance, but warned ministers to heed the warnings of the “sizeable” proportion of the union membership that voted to reject the pay offer.
"We would also warn that no-one in government circles should be naive enough to think this puts the issue of worker value back in the box," he said. "If ministers want to seriously tackle the understaffing crisis in our health service and recruit and retain the people needed to build a recovery of our broken NHS, then the bar must continue to rise for the pay and conditions of staff in the years to come."
The potential breakthrough comes amid strikes by teachers, university staff and railway workers, in separate disputes over pay, jobs and conditions. Members of the Rail, Maritime and Transport union across 14 train operators are striking on Thursday, leading to some areas of the country having no rail services.