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Rishi Sunak Hints He Will Speak With Nurses About Pay In This Financial Year

Rishi Sunak said “the door has always been open” for nurses to speak with the government (Alamy)

3 min read

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak suggested that negotiations may be on the table for nurses’ pay this year, with talks planned with unions from multiple sectors on Monday.

As nurses plan a fresh wave of strikes over pay, the government has so far refused to budge, saying that pay rises could make soaring inflation worse.

However, speaking on the BBC’s Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg, Sunak said “the door has always been open” for nurses to speak with the government about pay negotiations. 

Ministers, health leaders and experts met at Number 10 on Saturday in an attempt to solve short and long-term issues facing the NHS, in talks which were described as “highly valuable” by the PM's spokesperson. 

Sunak told the BBC he recognises the NHS is “under enormous pressure” but added: “I came away from all my meetings with a renewed sense of confidence and optimism that we can get to grips with this problem. 

“We want to have a reasonable, honest two-way conversation about pay and everything else.”

When asked whether he uses a private GP, Sunak refused to answer.

The prime minister repeated that Covid has had a huge strain on public health services, saying: “I can’t help that there are thousands of people in hospitals who normally would not be there.” 

He highlighted the use of “virtual wards” as a possible solution to the shortage of NHS beds, which would allow patients to be monitored remotely. 

Sunak will be speaking with union leaders from multiple sectors on Monday to discuss widespread strike action and next year’s pay settlement for nurses, but the Royal College of Nursing general secretary Pat Cullen said nurses need answers on their pay for 2023. 

Cullen told the BBC: “There was a chink of optimism and there was a little shift in what the prime minister was saying.

"But what the government want to talk about tomorrow is not going to avert strike action planned for 10 days' time."

King’s College Hospital CEO Prof Clive Kay told the BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg that he doesn’t think the prime minister understands the level of problems in the NHS.

"I've been in the NHS for close to 40 years,” he said. “Every year is tougher, every year seems tougher than the last, but by some distance this is toughest time.

“I don’t think I heard quite the grasp of the fact that this is a really, really difficult situation.”

Labour leader Keir Starmer appeared on Sky’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday, where he also answered questions on the NHS crisis. 

While Sunak has refused to call the situation in the NHS a “crisis”, Starmer said: “We've got to acknowledge the health services not just on its knees, it's on its face.”

Starmer said that a Labour government would aim to “change and reform” the NHS to fix underlying problems, rather than continue “sticking plaster politics” – a phrase he coined in his speech last week in which he accused the Conservative government of only offering short-term fixes to the country’s problems.

“We would get rid of the non-dom status which allows very wealthy people not to pay their taxes in this country, and we would use the money from that to double the number of medical students coming into the NHS,” he said.

“Change and reform is what is needed. We're going to consult on this and of course of the coming months that there'll be a 10 year plan for the NHS under the next Labour government.”

Starmer suggested a Labour government would use the private sector to ease pressures on the NHS and reduce waiting lists. 

“We're not talking about privatising the NHS,” he said. “For us, we're talking about using the private sector and looking at primary care.”

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