Nurses’ salaries should be reviewed, ministers say, as further walkouts loom

Nurses strike – Henry Nicholls/Reuters

Ministers are urged to ask the independent pay review body to make further recommendations to resolve the dispute over NHS pay.

The leader of the Commons health committee was among those who called on the government and unions to find a way to reach a compromise, as more NHS strikes loom.

Nurses walked out on Thursday, the first nationwide strike by members of the Royal College of Nursing. NHS chief nurse Dame Ruth May has been reprimanded by Downing Street after joining the picket line.

Health chiefs warned on Thursday that next week’s strikes will bring “a different magnitude of risk” to patients, as paramedics follow nurses on picket lines.

There are fears that heart attack and stroke victims will be left without ambulances during next week’s strikes, with unions at odds with the NHS.

Steve Barclay, the health secretary, said the government was having “very active discussions” with the aim of ensuring that emergencies were protected from strikes.

Ruth May at the picket line at St Thomas's Hospital

Ruth May at the picket line at St Thomas’s Hospital

Ministers have said all Category 1 and 2 calls – considered life-threatening and emergencies – should be strike-exempt. But the unions said all agreements would be made at the local level between trusted leaders and union representatives.

Wednesday’s ambulance strikes will follow a second day of action by nurses, with members of the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) due to return to the picket line on Tuesday.

The latest figures show that 111 phone lines are increasingly overwhelmed, even before the strikes, with more than half of calls dropped on December 11. Meanwhile. one in three ambulances were forced to queue outside hospitals in the same week, according to NHS statistics.

The MRC is reportedly considering staging three more strikes in January, with longer periods of action under consideration, as it demands a 19% pay rise.

On Thursday, a former chairman of the independent NHS pay review body suggested he should be asked to come up with new recommendations, which take into account recent rises in inflation.

Health Secretary Steve Barclay - Stefan Rousseau/PA

Health Secretary Steve Barclay – Stefan Rousseau/PA

Recommendations earlier this year had meant an average increase of 4.75% for nurses in England and Wales, with a top-up for the lowest paid.

Jerry Cope, a former chairman of the body, said a “very quick turnaround” on this year’s recommendations could be a solution to “this seemingly intractable problem”.

Noting that the last review was in February, he said: “The world was a rather different place in February and so I think some of the evidence they looked at was probably out of date at the time of publication.

“I think that’s a way out because it respects the integrity of the pay review body.”

The idea was backed by Steve Brine, chair of the Commons Health and Human Services Committee. “Everyone needs to cool it down and I think sending it back to the pay review body to take a look would be a sensible response,” he said.

Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, told BBC Radio 4 Prime Minister: “We would be open to any suggestions that bring the parties together. The question is how to get through the winter and any idea that allows both parties to feel that they can agree on something and can remove the risk of industrial action – well, I would say explore that.”

Dog on the picket line - Tom Wren/SWNS

Dog on the picket line – Tom Wren/SWNS

However, the Prime Minister’s official spokesman said Downing Street had “no intention of telling the independent body what to do”. And the unions last night rejected the idea.

Sara Gorton, Unison’s Chief Health Officer, said: ‘There is no need to start another long series of evidence. A raise is needed now, not months later. »

Pat Cullen, NCR general secretary, told BBC Breakfast that the independent pay review body was “put in place by government, paid for by government, appointed by government and within the parameters of the examination are set by the government, so there is nothing independent about it.”

The NHS chief nurse was slapped by Downing Street on Thursday after joining nurses on picket lines.

Dame Ruth, a senior civil servant who had worried about the risks the strikes would pose to patients, said she supported all nurses “whether on the picket lines or on the wards”.

The Prime Minister’s spokesman said: “She does not work for the government, she is not a minister. Obviously, she has her own vision as head nurse. The government must consider what constitutes responsible action in the cycle.

A Whitehall source added: ‘She speaks for herself but obviously it’s not helpful.’

Earlier this week Dame Ruth, who earns over £180,000 a year in her role for NHS England, spoke out against the RCN.

The senior official – who took part in nurses’ strikes in the 1980s, which the MRC opposed – said the union had not done enough to protect patient safety.

Speaking from the picket line at St Thomas’ Hospital in London, Dame Ruth told The Times: “I support all nurses. I support all nurses and want to help them use their voice, whether it’s out there in the wards or here on the picket lines.

“I want to see the Royal College of Nursing work with the government to find a solution to this problem.”

In a video posted on social media, Dame Ruth said: ‘I am here today in St Thomas to thank all the nurses. Of course, compensation is a matter between the unions and the government and I would like to see, as nurses across the country would like to see, a resolution as soon as possible.

Dame Ruth said she met nurses on the wards and on the picket line, saying nurses should ‘use their voice’ and ‘continue to ensure minimal risk to patient safety’.

Mr Barclay said she warned him she was going to meet nurses on the picket line.

“What she was very clear about was that she wanted to support all nurses, and I think as head nurse that’s absolutely true,” he said during a visit to Chelsea and Westminster Hospital in London.

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