The UK’s largest nursing union is calling for the government to reopen pay negotiations after an offer was made to consultant doctors, in a move that has angered other health unions.
The Royal College of Nursing – RCN – has suggested new strikes are “more likely in the future” as a result of yesterday’s announcement.
Most consultants were offered an extra 4.95% “investment in pay” for this financial year, on top of the 6% annual pay rise already awarded, as well as a promise to change the way pay scales are organised.
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Members of the British Medical Association union are now voting on whether to accept this and end their strikes.
This year and last, RCN members took part in several nationwide walkouts in a row with the government over pay during the cost of living crisis.
An offer from the government was accepted en masse by unions in May this year. While the RCN’s membership did not want to take the deal, they were outvoted on a council of unions impacted by the changes.
This was for those in the health service on the Agenda for Change pay scale – which covers staff except doctors, dentists and very senior managers.
The deal included a 5% offer, alongside a cash top-up for the 2023/24 period.
It was supported by Unison, GMB, the Chartered Society of Physiotherapists and the Royal College of Midwives among others – but not the RCN and Unite.
Some members of the council are angry that the RCN appears to be undermining their collective position.
One union source told Sky News: “This is really sneaky from the Royal College of Nursing, all unions involved in the NHS Staff Council are working together to negotiate a new deal for their members for 2024 with the secretary of state, and once again RCN have gone off on their own.”
And Unison’s acting head of health Helga Pile said it was “vital” that next year’s Agenda for Change deal is sorted in good time – compared to the chaos of last period’s negotiations, which were beset by industrial action.
Pat Cullen, the head of the RCN, wrote to the new health secretary, Victoria Atkins, outlining her position.
“It is time for nurses and nursing to be treated with the respect they deserve and for nursing pay also to be reformed,” she said.
She added that “the greatest pay inequality in the NHS relates to nursing. This must be addressed as a matter of urgency”.
Ms Cullen said that “every slight discourages another individual from choosing nursing as a profession and puts more patients at risk”.
“The NHS requires the stability of a nursing foundation and now more than ever, this must be resolved,” she added.
On Monday, RCN chief nurse Professor Nicola Ranger said the offer to consultants will ignite its members’ fury further, making nursing strikes more likely in the future.
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “We hugely value the hard work of NHS nurses, and that is why we provided a 5% pay rise. We also provided two significant non-consolidated awards, which for nurses at the top of band 5 was over £2,000, equivalent to an extra 6.1% of their basic pay.
“This deal was accepted by the NHS Staff Council, and we continue to work collaboratively, including with the RCN, to deliver a series of agreed reforms, but we will not be re-opening negotiations on pay.
“The offer for consultants includes significant reform for a pay scale that has not been modified since 2003.”