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Government In Talks With Unions, NHS Crisis Plans, Teachers Are Leaving Jobs

Nurses are planning a third wave of strikes on 18 and 19 January (Alamy)

6 min read

Leaders from a range of unions are meeting cabinet ministers today to discuss their positions ahead of further planned strikes across the health, education, and transport sectors.

The Guardian reported that ministers are prepared to consider “one-off” payment to health workers, possibly as hardship payments to help them get through the cost of living crisis. 

Despite the government repeatedly ruling out reopening a pay settlement for nurses in 2022-23, yesterday the Prime Minister suggested he might be willing to have “conversations” about pay this year.

On a visit to a hospital in Leeds, Rishi Sunak said: "On pay, we have always said the government is happy to talk about pay demands that are anchored in what is reasonable, responsible and affordable." 

When questioned by Sky News, Sunak did not deny that one-off payments to nurses were on the table.

However, Royal College of Nursing general secretary Pat Cullen said she doubts today’s talks will produce the results needed to avoid further industrial action. 

She 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."

Speaking to ITV’s Good Morning Britain on Monday, Shadow Health Secretary Wes Streeting said the government had been “unreasonable” by refusing dialogue with nursing unions, while describing the nurses as “very reasonable”.

“Since the government’s refusal to negotiate, the nurses have said they will meet them halfway,” he said. 

“Steve Barclay has got to go further than he is today – not just get them in for individual chats but have proper negotiations to avert strike action.” 

Nurses are planning a third wave of strikes on 18 and 19 January while ambulance staff are also due to strike on 11 and 23 January.

Meanwhile, the British Medical Association (BMA) is opening a ballot for junior doctors today that could result in a 72-hour strike over pay in March.  

A ballot is also taking place for teachers, which ends on Friday and might approve one of the largest school strikes in years. 

The National Education Union (NEU) might lead industrial action in February and March that will see state schools in England and Wales completely close for several days.

Further transport strikes are likely in the coming months. Although there are currently no further rail strikes planned, there are London bus strikes on Tuesday and Thursday, as well as a walkout by staff working on the Elizabeth Line on Thursday. 

Conservatives and Labour offer possible solutions to NHS crisis

ambulances queuing up outside hospital
The government will announce measures to ease pressure on NHS hospitals (Alamy)

With crisis in the public sector escalating, both the Conservatives and Labour have been setting out possible solutions to prevent the collapse of the National Health Service.

After an emergency meeting in Downing Street on Saturday, the government will announce measures to ease pressure on NHS hospitals in Parliament today. 

The measures include £200m in extra funding for the NHS to buy thousands of beds in hotels, care homes, private hospitals and hospices, in order to move patients currently stuck on NHS hospital wards. 

There are plans to move hundreds of elderly patients into hotel rooms over the next few weeks.

However, with 165,000 job vacancies in social care and 133,000 across the NHS, health leaders are concerned there will be shortage to staff to ensure patients are cared for in these extra beds. 

The charity Age UK told The Times that hotels were “not an appropriate place to provide high-quality care for older people”.

Shadow Health Secretary Wes Streeting appeared on Monday’s morning media round to outline Labour’s ideas for tackling the NHS crisis. 

He told ITV’s Good Morning Britain that the UK has a “two-tier health system”, with wealthier people having access to private healthcare while others get “left behind” in an NHS system unable to cope with demand. 

“We have to think radically,” Streeting said. “Labour would use spare private sector capacity to get patients healthcare for free using private facilities.”

The shadow health secretary reiterated Labour’s controversial plans to “tear up the contract” with GPs if they get into government, making GP doctors salaried NHS employees rather than independent operators. 

As the main political parties scramble for solutions, the i reported that nearly a quarter of British adults have used overstretched A&E departments due to not being able to access GP appointments.

Streeting proposed that people could refer themselves directly to specialists rather than seeing a GP first, and suggested that pharmacies take on additional roles such as vaccinations.

Education strikes planned alongside teacher retention crisis

Education union leaders are meeting Education Secretary Gillian Keegan for a talk today, as teachers are balloted for widespread strike action.

The Guardian reported that nearly a third of teachers who qualified in the last decade have since left the profession, according to Labour analysis.

The results of strike ballots by teaching unions are due this week and Labour intends to use a Commons vote to push their plan to impose VAT on private school fees.

They claim this would help pay for new teachers in the state sector.

National Education Union Joint General Secretary Mary Bousted told Radio 4’s Today programme that her talk with the education secretary today is “not a negotiation” and that she expects the government to outline their position and why they are sticking to it.

Arguing that teachers have lost 24 per cent of their pay in real terms since 2010, Bousted insists that only a wage rise will prevent strike action, rather than simply the one-off payments currently being considered by the government. 

“It is a step forward that they are willing to talk,” she said, but accused the government of doing nothing about averting strike action despite “knowing we have been moving towards it for years”. 

She told Radio 4: “We will be interested today to hear whether there is any more money on the table.

“We want a pay rise. The government must commit to proper negotiations. This is a crisis which has been building for more than 12 years.”

Bousted argued that children were already being harmed every day by a shortage of teachers, particularly in STEM subjects.

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