Nurses strikes to continue after ‘bitterly disappointing’ talks

Nurses strike: RCN members at St Thomas' Hospital in London

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The Royal College of Nursing said Monday’s meeting was “bitterly disappointing” after extra cash for this financial year was again ruled out. Joanne Galbraith-Marten, director of employment relations at the union, said there was no resolution in sight.

She said: “Today’s meeting was bitterly disappointing – nothing for the current year and repeating that ‘the budget is already set’ for next year.

“This intransigence is letting patients down. Ministers have a distance to travel to avert next week’s nurse strike.”

NHS leaders along with unions representing physiotherapists, ambulance workers and midwives also attended the meeting with Health Secretary Steve Barclay.

Sara Gorton, head of health at Unison, suggested Downing Street was blocking progress.

She said: “It was a very civil meeting. We did actually manage to talk about pay – we didn’t get the tangible concessions that we might have hoped for that would enable us to call off the strikes later this week.

“But it was definitely progress when you’re in a room with the Secretary of State talking about pay, I think.

“He’s asked for our help to help with the Treasury to make the case for investment. We’ll certainly do that.”

Asked whether she felt the minister was on the side of the unions, she said: “You might interpret that. I mean, it was very clear that what is needed in order to resolve the dispute is investment.

“The Treasury is in the position to unblock that, so I guess the message today is to put pressure back on the Chancellor and the Prime Minister to say the dispute is resolvable.”

Mr Barclay suggested productivity and efficiency in the NHS need to be looked at to help find more money for higher salaries in the next financial year, which starts in April.

He said the government wants to find ways to retain health workers but also wants to reduce the amount of money the NHS spends on agency workers.

The Cabinet minister agreed to “take away” suggestions that a pay rise could be backdated to January 1 this year.

Government sources said the discussions had been “useful” and constructive” and more talks will be held soon.

The GMB announced it will go ahead with ambulance strikes on Wednesday after talks “fell well short” of anything needed to stop the walk-out.

Rachel Harrison, GMB’s national secretary, said: “There was some engagement on pay – but not a concrete offer that could help resolve this dispute and make significant progress on the recruitment and retention crisis,” said Rachel Harrison, GMB’s national secretary.

“The public expects the Government to treat these talks seriously – it’s time they got on with it.”

Elaine Sparkes, assistant director at the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy, said: “Although the meeting was more constructive this time, there is nothing tangible on the table.

“As such, we’ll be announcing the first of our strike dates later this week as we continue to push for a fairer deal for our members and their colleagues.”

The meeting came as ministers in other departments met union bosses in a day of crisis talks to resolve the strike action that has spread across the public sector over the last few months.

Rishi Sunak said he was “happy to talk about pay” but insisted any settlement would have to be affordable and must not fuel inflation.

The Prime Minister said he hopes the wave of industrial unrest can be resolved in a “responsible and reasonable way”.

He added: “I think that people also recognise that when it comes to pay we do need to be talking about things that are affordable ultimately for the country, that are responsible when it comes to tacking inflation which, ultimately, is the root cause of the challenges people are seeing.

“We all want to root out inflation. It is really important that we do so.”

He added: “The talks are happening. That’s a good, positive sign and the most important thing is we let those talks carry on.”

RMT general secretary Mick Lynch and Mick Whelan, general secretary of train drivers’ union Aslef, refused to discuss how their talks with rail minister Huw Merriman had gone.

It follows sustained action that crippled services last week, with only one in five trains running between Tuesday and Saturday.

The National Education Union said that “no concrete progress” had been made in its talks with the education secretary.

Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the NEU, said: “While there is the thought of further meetings, there is no sense of concrete progress as yet. There is no offer, there is no change.

“There are further discussions to happen that we will engage in while still urging our members to vote in the ballot.”

Business Secretary Grant Shapps has said ministers were seeking a more “collaborative approach”.

He said: “It is a new year. We are very keen to see these strikes come to a conclusion. We want to see a collaborative approach.”

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