A meeting is to be held between the Royal College of Nursing’s chief executive and the UK health and social care secretary this evening as nurse strikes edge closer.
The RCN has said it will “attend in the hope the government is now serious about negotiating” on nurse pay, after being invited for a discussion with Steve Barclay earlier today.
“I don’t think there’s plans to talk pay, certainly from the secretary of state’s perspective”
However, it appears the health secretary remains unwilling to talk about pay.
The meeting comes as NHS members of the RCN prepare to hold strike action in England, Wales and Northern Ireland later this week over pay and patient safety concerns.
Speaking earlier today, RCN chief executive and general secretary Pat Cullen had told Good Morning Britain there was a “strong possibility” strikes could be averted if the health secretary began “realist, honest talks” on pay.
“If he gets round the table with us and has realistic, honest talks, there is a strong possibility that I will be able to go back to my council and say I recommend that we avert the strikes and continue those negotiations,” she told broadcasters.
“I can do that right now, this very minute after I finish this call. My door is absolutely wide open, and my door is the Royal College of Nursing door.”
Ministers including Mr Barclay have previously described the RCN’s call for a 5% above inflation pay rise unaffordable and have repeatedly pointed to the fact that the government in England has acted in line with the recommendations of the NHS Pay Review Body with its £1,400 rise.
During an interview with BBC Breakfast this morning, Mr Barclay failed to commit to opening discussions with health unions on pay and claimed that by funding an additional rise: “We’d have to take money away from patients waiting for operations.”
Also today, No.10 issued a statement on the meeting which said: “Outside of pay – which we’ve said rightly are for an independent body to decide – there are non-pay options to discuss with the unions.
“Issues affecting nurse morale, for example, and the funds we’re putting in to help with their daily work, so it’s right we keep having those discussions.”
The spokesperson added: “I don’t think there’s plans to talk pay, certainly from the secretary of state’s perspective.”
The RCN and health secretary have met on a couple of occasions following the news of strike action, though no progress was made on nurse pay.
It is understood Mr Barclay today invited Ms Cullen for talks on the situation via email and that she has accepted. It is set to take place this evening, Nursing Times understands.
An RCN spokesperson said: “We have replied positively to his email, and we will attend in the hope the government is now serious about negotiating.”
Thousands of nurse members of the RCN are set to walk out on Thursday 15 December and Tuesday 20 December at NHS employers across England, Wales and Northern Ireland.