Nurses are expected to stage fresh walkouts as it is feared unions are poised to reject a pay deal offered by ministers. New strikes are believed to be planned for this month, which could also lead to more action by junior doctors. The Royal College of Nursing is set to reveal the results of a ballot over the pay offer tomorrow.
A union source has said: “More strikes are quite possible, voting is still open and it’s going to be close.”
The Government had offered staff in England a one-off payment for the current 2022/23 financial year worth between £1,655 and £3,789, plus a five percent permanent increase for 2023/24.
Meanwhile, Health Secretary Steve Barclay said junior doctors must call off strikes so talks can begin “straight away”.
He appealed for union bosses to stop wreaking havoc on services after figures showed that a record 7.2 million people were still waiting for care.
The British Medical Association wants a 35 percent pay rise to restore wages to 2008 levels. Ministers say that is unaffordable.
Writing in the Daily Express, Mr Barclay says: “I want to be crystal clear: my door is open and I am prepared and ready to negotiate, but the BMA must also pause action. I am determined to find a fair deal that reflects how much this Government values junior doctors, while protecting our commitment to halve inflation.”
Meanwhile, it emerged more than 362,000 of the 7.2 million patients on waiting lists had been there more than a year in February.
The NHS has focused on tackling the longest waits first. The number waiting over 18 months fell by a third since January, from around 45,000 to 30,000.
But Mr Barclay warned those hard-won gains were being threatened by the junior doctors’ 96-hour walkout, which enters its fourth day tomorrow.
Some 285,000 appointments have already been postponed due to strikes since December.
Mr Barclay said: “I’m concerned these latest strikes will hinder this progress and worsen backlogs. It is undoubtedly unhelpful when the NHS is trying to pull out all the stops to cut record waiting lists following the pandemic.”
The BMA has indicated it would be willing to discuss the 35 percent figure “within a negotiation”.
Possible solutions could include a plan for pay restoration over several years. But the two sides have so far remained locked in a battle of rhetoric and unable to agree terms for formal talks.
Dr Layla McCay, of the NHS Confederation, urged both sides to come to the table “for the sake of patients”.
She said: “Many NHS staff are overworked and burnt out. NHS leaders are doing all they can to minimise the disruption.
“But they are worried about what this might mean for their ongoing efforts to reduce waiting lists in the longer term.”
Miriam Deakin, of NHS Providers, said hospitals had made “remarkable gains” in tackling the backlog.
But she added: “It’s clear the ongoing strikes are compounding pre-existing pressures, impacting patient care and hindering progress on care backlogs amid plunging workforce morale.
“We’re at a critical juncture. Both sides of the current pay dispute need to urgently open talks in good faith.”
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said there should be a greater role for the private sector in the NHS.
He said the NHS was the country’s “number one public service priority” and “our job is to make sure we’re trusted with it”.
But he argued the Tories should not be “hung up” about making the case for greater private involvement to help provide competition. He told the ConservativeHome blog: “Cutting the waiting list is one of my priorities.
“There’s lots of different ways we are doing that, but it’s about doing things differently, it’s about reform, it’s about using the private sector more, the independent sector. That’s something we actually should be very comfortable with.
“Ultimately, if a patient is still getting the care they need, free at the point of use, we shouldn’t be so hung up on who is providing it.
“We should be using the independent sector to provide choice, to provide competition, drive up quality.
“It’s worked in the past and we are going to do more of that going forward.”
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