At last, a breakthrough. After almost a fortnight of intensive talks with health unions, the government has made a significant new pay offer to NHS England staff, which looks set to finally put an end to strike action. 

The biggest three unions – the Royal College of Nursing, Unison and the GMB – are all recommending their members back the new deal, which includes a 5% pay rise from April and a one-off payment to top up the past year’s pay award.

According to unions, this one-off bonus amounts to £2.5bn, works out as £1,655 for lower-paid staff, such as porters and cleaners, and is worth around £2,400 for senior front-line roles such as nurse consultants and over £3,700 for staff in management positions, such as directors of nursing and chief finance officers. The 5% pay increase for the 2023-34 financial year is likely to be above inflation if forecasts are correct – and it’s a step up from the 3.5% ministers had originally from April. 

Pat Cullen, the Royal College of Nursing’s general secretary, says she strongly believes that members who took the “hardest of decisions to go on strike” have been “vindicated” today. 

Fourteen unions were present at the talks, representing nurses, ambulance staff, physiotherapists, midwives, support staff, including cleaners and porters. Originally, it was just the RCN invited for “intensive pay talks” last month, but fury from other health unions’ at the apparent exclusion prompted the government to extend the invitation. 

Health Secretary Steve Barclay praised the “constructive engagement” of the unions this afternoon, describing the new figure as a “fair pay rise” that would also protect the government’s commitment to halve inflation.

An end to the bitter dispute is welcome news. The disruptive array of health strikes over the winter has already caused over 100,000 appointments to be postponed. 

But it’s not quite the end of the line for Barclay and Co. The new offer covers all NHS staff except doctors, who are on a different contract. It comes as junior doctors have just completed their three-day walkout in search of an ambitious 35% pay rise.

That said, it’s worth pointing out that the BMA, the union representing junior doctors, was in fact offered pay talks with the government last Friday on the exact same terms as the health unions who have just struck a deal. The BMA declined the invitation and pressed ahead with its planned strike action. Might the progress of other health unions persuade it to reconsider? 

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