Welcome to Friday’s Early Edition from i.

“We have had eight months now where the Government could – and should – have been engaging with us in good faith to try and, firstly prevent us from having to take industrial action, and then to try and avert it once plans had been put in place.” Those were the words of Unison’s head of health, Sara Gorton, last week just before health unions entered fresh negotiations with the Government over their long-running dispute over pay. That dispute has seen hundreds of thousands of workers go on strike, adding disruption to an already dangerously stretched health service. Now, the Government has made an offer, which will see NHS nurses and paramedics suspend strike action while they ballot members on it. Many will lament how long it took to get to this point. But questions still remain – will the offers be accepted, and does it have repercussions for other striking sectors, including junior doctors? We’ll take a look after the headlines.

 Today’s news, and why it matters

A radical overhaul of disability benefits could see people with complex or invisible conditions left hundreds of pounds out of pocket, the Government has been warned. Under the changes, the work capability assessment for determining benefit payments will be replaced with the existing personal independence payment (PIP) system. One disabled man told i the radical overhaul “terrifies” him, and could leave other sufferers short-changed. (You might also want to read what Jeremy Hunt didn’t tell you in his budget, according to Paul Lewis):

Two dolphins have died from bird flu in UK waters for the first time, the government has announced. The sea mammals were found in separate locations, on beaches in Devon and in Pembrokeshire, last month, and were confirmed to have been infected with the highly infectious H5N1 variant of avian influenza which has spread around the globe during the past 18 months.

Plans to end free NHS prescriptions for 60-65 year-olds in England have been scrapped by the Government following a wave of anger from charities and older people, i can reveal. The plan, first proposed in 2021 by Boris Johnson’s government to save £6bn, sparked a huge backlash from charities who warned that older people with long-term conditions would be hit hard by the charges.

Dominic Raab repeatedly “ruined” the lives of junior staff and “created an awful atmosphere to work”, according to officials who worked with him. One source, who worked with Mr Raab said: “If you weren’t important, he’s absolutely awful, and then he’d pivot to being reasonable and affable – say with the PM or another senior figure”.

A major expansion of free childcare has been greeted with mixed reactions from parents who have already given up their careers or are grappling with the cost of living crisisas they say the changes have come too late for them and thousands of families. One said the move comes “too late” to help her family and she can’t understand why there will be a delay before the changes come into play, when many families are struggling financially now.

Four questions on the NHS pay offer:

Will the offer be accepted? That depends on the outcome of the ballots. NHS workers will suspend their strike action while hundreds of thousands of members are surveyed over the offer. The deal itself includes an additional one-off lump sum of 6 per cent for this year and a 5 per cent pay rise on all pay points for 2023-24, and is a significant increase from the 3.5 per cent on the table at the start of the strike action. (You can read the full terms here) Many unions have welcomed it. Union’s Sara Gorton said: “If accepted, the offer would boost pay significantly this year and mean a wage increase next year that’s more than the government had budgeted for.” GMB’s Rachel Harrison said her union’s members “should rightly be proud of themselves,” adding: “It’s been a tough road but they have faced down the Department of Health and won an offer that we feel is the best that can be achieved at this stage through negotiation.” But not everyone is happy. Unite’s national officer, Onay Kasab, told BBC’s Newsnight that the offer “is not going to do anything to help new people come into the NHS. It’s not going to deal with the recruitment crisis”.Similarly, one member of the Royal College of Nursing said that the pay deal on the table wouldn’t stop workers “leaving the health service in droves“. And Sharon Graham, Unite’s general secretary, said the offer was not one it could recommend to members, but would respect the outcome of its ballot. She said: “Unite will support members in whichever decision they now make. 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.”

How will it be funded? That is not yet entirely clear. Rishi Sunak said the agreement – which would cost the government £2.5bn – would not come from frontline resources but partly from non-clinical DH budgets and new money from Treasury. Health Secretary Steve Barclay also said funding for the agreement would not come at the expense of patients. The Government added that departments “will work together to resolve any new funding needs in the usual way.” But the NHS Confederation said the health service doesn’t have money “just lying around” to fund it. Its chief executive, Matthew Taylor, told Channel 4 News: “There’s no way that the NHS can find one-and-a-half, two billion, two-and-a-half billion pounds without an impact on patient services or quality of care. We don’t have that money just lying around.”

What does it mean for junior doctors? Despite this being a pay offer for NHS workers, the dispute with junior doctors runs separately to this. The British Medical Association is urging a “pay restoration” for junior doctors, saying their pay has fallen in real terms by 26% since 2008/09 and reversing this would require a 35.3% pay rise. The BMA has not joined these talks with the government, but Steve Barclay is now calling on them to follow the lead of other health unions. The government made a last-minute offer of formal pay talks last Friday, which the BMA rejected over the pre-conditions. Mr Barclay said: “We have offered the same terms to the junior doctors that were accepted by the other trade unions and that is what I hope the junior doctors will respond to. There are now calls for the two sides to find a solution, with Louise Ansari, of the patient watchdog Healthwatch England, saying: “We now urge a swift resolution of pay disputes between doctors and government to avoid any further delays to patient care.”

What about other sectors on strike? It is now hoped the breakthrough could open the door for deals in other public sectors. When asked by Andrew Marr on LBC whether the deal could be beginning of a wider settlement of public sector pay, Chancellor Jeremy Hunt said: “I hope so. I mean, the Government’s attitude to all these groups of workers is the same, we would like to sit down and settle them reasonably but in a way that doesn’t risk the economic recovery of the country. And I hope today will be the start of that change.”

A FTSE share index board in the atrium of the London Stock Exchange Group (Photo: Jose Sarmento Matos/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Around the world

Some of the US’s biggest banks launched a joint rescue operation to save a smaller US lender amid fears of contagion in the wider banking sector. The plan will see up to $30bn injected into the First Republic Bank to help it avoid becoming the latest US bank failure following on from the collapse of Silicon Valley Bank (SVB) and Signature Bank last week.

Poland is to become the first country to deliver fighter jets to Ukraine, involving four Soviet-era MiG-29s as a first instalment in the next few days. The move could lead to other Nato members providing warplanes, a request Ukraine has been calling for.

Eyedrops may have killed one person and severely injured several others, US health officials have said, due to drug-resistant bacterial contamination. 68 patients across 16 states have been identified with a rare strain of Pseudomonas aeruginosa, which had never been found in the US before.

Florida’s beaches are bracing for an estimated 5,000-mile bloom of seaweed, which formed in the Atlantic Ocean. The weed, called sargassum, could be the largest accumulation on record and once on shore would create mounds that emit a gas like rotten eggs, which can also threaten sea life.

A plan to build the world’s first octopus farm has prompted concern among scientists over the way these intelligent creatures will be slaughtered. The farm, which is planned in Spain’s Canary Islands, will raise about one million octopuses every year for food, according to confidential documents.

 Watch out for…

 Comic Relief, which airs on BBC One from 7pm. Here’s how you can get involved in Red Nose day, if you haven’t already.  

 Thoughts for the day

It’s time to make the BBC truly independent – by ending No 10’s say over its bosses, argues Paul Waugh.

The condemnation of Jess Phillips for honouring a trans teenager is a new low in our culture wars, says Izin Akhabau.

Robert Smith is ‘sickened’ by Ticketmaster, but unless he cancels The Cure’s US tour he is powerless, writes Ed Power.

Robert Smith of The Cure is angry about Ticketmaster’s hidden fees. But the problem is too big for a tweet to fix (Photo: Dave J Hogan/Getty Images)

Culture Break

‘You can’t taint every single police officer with the actions of despicable people’. Ahead of the new series of Grace, John Simm talks policing, Doctor Who – and embracing his funny side.

John Simm as DS Roy Grace (Photo: ITV)

The Big Read

I tried niksen, the Dutch art of doing nothing – and it changed my family life. Manic multitasker and mother-of-three Georgina Fuller attempts to consciously do less – what were the results?

Writer Georgina Fuller attempts to relax at home with her dog (Photo: Supplied)


Raheem Sterling is left out of the England squad – and he might not get back in. Southgate says he would have picked Sterling if he wasn’t injured but these England squads can be an unforgiving place, writes Sam Cunningham.

Sterling was no longer England’s Mr Reliable at the World Cup (Photo: Getty)

Something to brighten your day

Braving swarms of jellyfish and the risk of dehydration, hypothermia, sunburn and – potentially – sharks, an Australian surfer has broken the record for the world’s longest session after catching waves for more than 30 hours. Blake Johnston entered the surf off Sydney’s Cronulla beach in the early hours of Thursday morning, with the aim of fulfilling a 40-hour- marathon and raising money for mental health charities. By Friday morning he had smashed the record, and at lunchtime he was still going in the 27 degree heat, having caught a staggering 610 waves.

Surfer Blake Johnston said he was ‘pretty cooked’ after smashing the world record, but then went back in the ocean for another 10 hours (Photo by Saeed KHAN/AFP)

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