NHS strike chaos could be fixed TODAY as Sunak vows to discuss pay rise in crunch talks

Nurse strikes: Rishi Sunak is due to meet with unions to discuss the nurses' pay dispute
Nurse strikes: Rishi Sunak is due to meet with unions to discuss the nurses' pay dispute
Oli Scarff
Georgina Cutler

By Georgina Cutler

Published: 09/01/2023

- 12:34

Updated: 09/01/2023

- 12:34

The head of the nursing union has said Rishi Sunak’s openness has offered a ‘chink of optimism’

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has said he is open to a deal that is “responsible” and “affordable” as a dispute over nurses’ pay continues.

Pat Cullen, general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing said the union had made a “significant move” by signalling a willingness to compromise.

A meeting between the health secretary and unions is due to go ahead today, but the government has so far only agreed a settlement for the next financial year.

Ms Cullen said the strikes are still set to go ahead as this year’s pay was still in dispute.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak speaks during a meeting with a multi-disciplinary team who provide virtual care during a visit to the Rutland Lodge Healthcare Centre in Leeds. Picture date: Monday January 9, 2023.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak says he is open to a deal that is 'responsible' and 'affordable'
Oli Scarff

Nurses across the UK are to receive a rise for the current year, 2022-23 with an average of 4.75 per cent in line with a recommendation by the independent NHS Pay Review Body in July.

However, the RCN says the increase is not enough amid the rising cost of living crisis.

Speaking this morning, Mr Sunak said: "On pay we've always said that the government is happy to talk about pay demands and pay issues that are anchored in what is reasonable, what's responsible, what is affordable for the country.

"But what is important is those talks are happening, so let's sit down and find a way through."

The Prime Minister said he was pleased union leaders were meeting ministers, but would not "comment on specifics".

Nurses in England, Wales and Northern Ireland staged a walkout for the first time in the RCN’s 106-year history last month as the union demanded a pay increase of 5 percent above inflation this year.

Ms Cullen has repeatedly called for the prime minister to meet her "halfway”.

She said yesterday: "There was a chink of optimism and there was a little shift in what the prime minister was saying.

"However, and this is really important, tomorrow's meeting... is not about negotiations, it's not about nurses' pay, and it's not addressing the issues that are our dispute.

Royal College of Nursing (RCN) general secretary Pat Cullen speaks to the media as she leaves BBC Broadcasting House in London, after appearing on the BBC One current affairs programme, Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg. Picture date: Sunday January 8, 2022.
Pat Cullen, from the Royal College of Nursing said the union had made a 'significant move'
Jonathan Brady

"The prime minister talked about coming to the table. Now that's a move for me. But it must be about addressing pay for 2022-23."

Ahead of the meeting on Monday, Health Secretary Steve Barclay suggested health workers could receive a larger pay rise if they agree to “efficiency” savings within the NHS.

Speaking to Sky News, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said the NHS was "not just on its knees, it's on its face".

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