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NHS strike: Re-open pay talks, hospital bosses plead

It comes as the NHS in England is preparing for its biggest-ever round of industrial action this week.

Hospital bosses have urged ministers to re-open pay talks with staff as the NHS in England prepares its biggest-ever round of NHS strikes this week.

NHS Providers chief Sir Julian Hartley said health bosses wanted to see fresh negotiations given walkouts have been suspended in Scotland and Wales following new pay offers.

It comes as nurses and ambulance staff walkout in parts of England on Monday.

Further strikes will follow later in the week, including a physios walkout.

NHS England has said its the biggest round of strikes to have hit the health service.

But a number of unions called off walkouts that were planned in Wales this week following ministers offer of 3% more on top of the 4.75% already given to staff below the grade of doctors.

Industrial action had already been suspended in Scotland after the government there offered staff more.

Sir Julian said: “We are all wanting to see the government open talks with unions, particularly given what we’ve seen in other parts of the UK.

“We can’t go on with a series of industrial action that really takes us away from focussing on priorities.

“I can’t overstate the amount of work that goes on in organisations to manage and mitigate for industrial action.”

But ministers have ruled out re-opening this year’s pay award – worth 4.75% extra on average – and instead have urged unions to start discussing next year’s pay deal.

All 14 health unions have pulled out of that process.

Health minister Maria Caulfield said a deal in Wales was not yet guaranteed and added it would be “extremely difficult” to reopen the 2022-23 pay deal – as this could lead to other public sector workers demanding the same.

“You’re talking about billions of pounds to pay for that,” she said.

Health Secretary Steve Barclay said ministers had met the recommendations of the independent NHS Pay Review Body.

And he warned the walkouts this weekly would “undoubtedly have an impact on patients and cause delays”.

What is happening this week?

Royal College of Nursing members in a third of England’s NHS trusts will go on strike.

They will be joined by members of two ambulance unions – the GMB and Unite – in some places as both sectors walk out on the same day for the first time.

The following strike action will then take place later this week:

Tuesday – RCN members in a third of England’s servicesThursday – Physios in a quarter of services in EnglandFriday – Ambulance staff who are members of Unison in five of England’s 10 services

The only planned strike happening in Wales this week is by ambulance staff who are part of the Unite union, the smallest of the three ambulance unions.

Walkouts are due to take place in Northern Ireland next week.

Image source, EPA

The head of RCN said strikes would be called off if the government came to the negotiating table with a better pay offer in England.

General secretary Pat Cullen said: “We’ve always said where negotiations happen, we would cancel strikes to allow for our members to be consulted.

“That’s what happened in Wales, that’s what’s been going on in Scotland.”

GMB national secretary Rachel Harrison said her members had been forced into Monday’s walkout as there had been no meaningful dialogue for a month.

“The NHS is crumbling, people are dying and this government is dithering,” she said.

The biggest strike – but what will the impact be?

Monday marks the first time ambulance crews and nurses will walk out on the same day after NHS industrial action started in December.

But while it is the biggest strike action of this winter, the impact will not be felt everywhere.

Under trade union laws, emergency cover will be provided. This means services such as intensive care, kidney dialysis and urgent cancer care will be provided.

What is more, around a third of nurses are not members of the RCN and two thirds of services in England will not see any strike action take place.

The majority of services taking part in the two days of RCN action this week are hospitals.

It means the biggest impact will be seen in pre-booked treatment such as hernia repairs, hip replacements and outpatient clinics.

In the hospitals where strike action took place in January, the extent of the disruption varied greatly. Some said up to 20% of routine work had to be rescheduled, but others reported a much smaller impact.

Sir Julian said: “We do expect to have significant disruption in terms of planned care, outpatients and elective appointments, but obviously making sure that we deliver the priority of patient safety for urgent and emergency care.”

Meanwhile, in the ambulance service Unison, which is by far the biggest union in the sector, is not taking action on Monday.

Between them, the GMB and Unite represent around a quarter of ambulance staff.

The services in London and the East of England will be completely unaffected.

What patients need to know

The advice remains to call 999 in an emergency.The most life-threatening situations – such as cardiac arrest – will be responded to by an ambulance.Conditions which are serious but not immediately life-threatening might not be attended straight away in the areas where ambulance staff are on strikeOther services, such as some cancer treatments or urgent testing, may only be partially staffedMore routine care is likely to be badly affected, including planned operations such as knee and hip replacements, community nursing services and health visitingAnyone with an appointment not already rearranged should attend at their allotted timeGPs, community pharmacies and dentists will be unaffected
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