The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) has paused a two-day strike planned for next week after the Government agreed to reopen discussions over pay.

Thousands of nurses at 128 services across England were set to walk out from 1-3 March in a significant escalation of the long-running dispute over pay and staffing.

For the first time, the action would have included intensive care and emergency nursing staff – raising fears of a dramatic impact on patients.

The pause to the strike comes after months of digging in on both sides, with the Government previously refusing to budge on increasing this year’s below-inflation pay offer, on backdating next year’s pay to this year, or on the Treasury offering more money.

Will nurses get a pay rise?

The Government has recommended offering millions of public sector workers pay rises well below inflation.

Nurses are recommended to receive a 3.5 per cent pay award for the 2023-24 financial year under proposals made to the independent NHS pay review body.

The Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC) said: “Pay awards above this level would require trade-offs for public service delivery or further government borrowing at a time when headroom against fiscal rules is historically low and sustainable public finances are vital in the fight against inflation.”

The average pay of an NHS nurse has fallen by 8 per cent in real terms since 2010. The RCN, which has more than 400,000 members, is demanding a 19 per cent pay rise – 5 per cent above retail price inflation (RPI). It is also demanding pay for the 2022-23 financial year be addressed.

However RCN general secretary, Pat Cullen, has previously said industrial action would be halted if Government ministers agree to discuss matching an offer of 7 per cent from the Welsh Government, where strikes have been suspended as a result.

Health Secretary, Steve Barclay, sat down for substantive talks on pay, terms and conditions with Ms Cullen on Wednesday, ahead of which Ms Cullen said she was “confident” a deal could be reached.

More on Strikes

Ahead of the talks, the RCN and DHSC said in a joint statement: “The Government and Royal College of Nursing have agreed to enter a process of intensive talks.

“Both sides are committed to finding a fair and reasonable settlement that recognises the vital role that nurses and nursing play in the National Health Service and the wider economic pressures facing the United Kingdom and the Prime Minister’s priority to halve inflation. The talks will focus on pay, terms and conditions, and productivity enhancing reforms.”

The RCN is unlikely to accept an offer of 3.5 per cent. However, the final offer could be higher.

In the past, the NHS pay review body has recommended more than the Government’s initial offers, and the Government has agreed to those terms.

Could the nursing strike still go ahead?

Next week’s strike could still go ahead if there is a breakdown in talks.

Ms Cullen said on Tuesday: “At this point in time, we have called off the action, 48 hours, that we had planned for March.

“So, let’s just now concentrate on those talks and make sure that we can bring those to a positive conclusion for every single nurse that has stood on those picket lines for the past three months.”

Danny Mortimer, chief executive of NHS Employers, which represents National Health Service employers in England, said: “It is a positive development that there will be substantive negotiations with the RCN.

“NHS Employers will do everything in our power to support a constructive outcome to the talks with the RCN, as well as with other trade unions.”

Sir Julian Hartley, chief executive at NHS Providers, said: “Trust leaders will be breathing a sigh of relief that the Government and the RCN are finally coming round the table to talk about pay, and that the imminent nurses strikes are now on hold.

“For these talks to end in a resolution, any agreed settlement will need to pass a vote by RCN members. Hopefully, it can pave the way for similar negotiations with other unions planning strikes.

“We eagerly await the outcome and hope that further disruption to services can be averted, allowing NHS staff to continue delivering high-quality care, bearing down on backlogs and meeting elective targets.”

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