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Senior Tories Suggest Government Should Negotiate With Nurses On Pay As Thousands Strike

Senior Tories including former justice secretary are calling on the government to re-open pay talks with nurses (Alamy)

4 min read

A number of prominent Conservative MPs have urged government to re-open pay talks with the nurses union as thousands of healthcare workers went on strike today.

Former justice secretary Robert Buckland told PoliticsHome podcast The Rundown he believed “there must be a middle way” between the 4 per cent pay increase offered to NHS workers from the independent pay review body, and the 19 per cent requested by the Royal College of Nursing (RCN). 

“I just hope both sides can find it,” he added.

Ministers have refused to discuss nursing salaries despite the RCN saying they would cancel two walkouts planned this month if ministers were to hold formal negotiations on pay. The first of the two strikes is taking place between 8am and 8pm today across the UK. 

The government has insisted that nurses' pay is set by the independent panel and has therefore continually refused to discuss it as part of the negotiations.

But there is now growing dissent among senior Conservatives, who believe the government should reconsider NHS nurses' pay, noting that the 4 per cent figure on offer for next year was calculated in February, before inflation shot up above 10 per cent and the wider cost of living crisis kicked in.

The RCN argues 4 per cent therefore translates as a significant pay cut in real-terms, and has indicated that they would settle for lower than the 19 per cent they are currently pitching for. 

Buckland said his "instinctive sympathy and understanding" is with nurses, and felt that some form of agreement did need to be made between the union and government. 

“The question is, what can work?," he said. 

While he felt that an inflation-beating settlement of more than 11 per cent "is a difficult one", he acknowledged that "there's a long way between 4 per cent and 19 per cent”.

He added that he hoped a middle ground between those two figures could be found. "I really do because we need we need our nurses to be there, and I know they want to be working," he continued. 

“Because [nursing is] a vocation, it's a calling, to do that job is something you have to really want to do in your heart.”

Buckland dealt with pay review bodies for prisons staff when he served in Boris Johnson’s Cabinet. He said there was “a lot of leverage in the argument” that economic conditions are very different now from when the 4 per cent pay deal was calculated back in February.

“Whilst I think 19 per cent is wholly unachievable, whether it is a moment for perhaps a discussion about a slightly different pay settlement - I think there is merit in that,” he added.

Last night former Tory party chairman Jake Berry told TalkTV he believed government “is going to have to improve its offer” and that they should "meet somewhere in the middle” with the RCN. 

"That has to involve the Government increasing its offer," he said. 

"I can tell you that I think 19 per cent is too high, And I can tell you that the Government offer is too low."

The chair of the health select committee, Tory MP Steve Brine, also veered from the party line, and suggested the independent pay body should be allowed to look at the subject again.

"I think the way out is to protect the integrity of the process, go back and ask them to look again,” he told the BBC's World At One programme.

"Everyone needs to cool it and I think sending it back to the pay review body to have a look would be a sensible answer.”

But Health Secretary Steve Barclay appeared to rule out any movement during a visit to London's Chelsea and Westminster Hospital as the first of the RCN's strikes got underway.

"We've been clear that we have an independent process and that is the process we followed,” he said this morning.

  • For the full discussion with Robert Buckland subscribe to The Rundown here


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