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Barclay urged to give ground on pay to resolve NHS disputes

Steve Barclay has been urged to “come to the table and talk about pay” as further talks began to tackle NHS disputes.

The leader of the body representing NHS Trusts urged the Health Secretary to act on the issue.

Interim chief executive of NHS Providers Saffron Cordery said the fallout from industrial action “diverts attention away from the things the NHS is absolutely keen to focus on”, such as cutting waiting times and getting community services back on track.

“We really hope they (unions and Government) can have a constructive conversation and avert some industrial action,” she told Times Radio.

“It would be great if the Secretary of State would come to the table and talk about pay because hopefully then that would set the pattern for… paramedics, for ambulance staff, for nurses.”

Talks with medics, particularly those from the British Medical Association (BMA), may start on a sour note after Mr Barclay cancelled a meeting on Wednesday in favour of conducting media interviews.

The Health Secretary was meeting BMA representatives along with the hospital doctors’ union HCSA and the British Dental Association on Thursday.

Meanwhile, civil service unions are set to meet Cabinet Office ministers.

It comes after the Public and Commercial Services (PCS) union announced that about 100,000 civil servants will walk out on February 1 in a dispute over pay.

The PCS union said that the dispute could be resolved if ministers “put some money on the table”.

Mark Serwotka, general secretary of the PCS union, said: “I am meeting with the Minister for the Cabinet Office, Jeremy Quin.

“If he puts some money on the table, there is a chance this dispute can be resolved.

“If he doesn’t, then he’ll see public services from benefits to driving tests, from passports to driving licences, from ports to airports affected by industrial action on February 1.”

And officials from the Rail Delivery Group will meet with the Rail, Maritime and Transport union and Transport Salaried Staffs’ Association in a fresh bid to break the deadlock.

Transport Secretary Mark Harper raised hopes of a breakthrough within “days” as he confirmed a “renewed offer” was on the table ahead of the talks.

The unions have made it clear they need a new offer on pay, jobs and conditions before the dispute can end.

The meetings come after 14 health unions announced that they will not be submitting evidence to the NHS pay review body for the next wage round while the current industrial disputes remain unresolved.

The 14 unions, representing more than one million ambulance staff, nurses, porters, healthcare assistants, physiotherapists and other NHS workers in England, have called for direct pay talks with ministers.

Unions said they believe the lengthy pay review body process is not able to deliver a deal that resolves the current pay and staffing dispute, which has led to a series of strikes.

Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, said: “For NHS leaders there is a real fear that the risk to patients will only intensify with future strikes, including for nurses and physiotherapists planned in the coming weeks, and no sign of resolution on the horizon.

“In what is by far the toughest winter in the NHS for a decade, and set against the perfect storm of rising levels of winter illnesses including Covid and flu and huge staff vacancies, the Government must not turn a blind eye on the situation.

“It must reach an agreement with trade unions as soon as possible.”

In other strike updates:

Workers on London’s Elizabeth line were on strike while the capital’s bus workers at Abellio were also taking industrial action.

Rural Payments Agency (RPA) staff continued their walkout.

The PCS stoppage will coincide with the TUC’s “protect the right to strike” day, which was announced in reaction to the Government’s controversial legislation on minimum service levels during industrial action.

The National Education Union (NEU) and teachers’ union NASUWT, as well as school leaders’ union the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT), are balloting members on strike action in England and Wales with results due in the coming week.

Elizabeth line Sunday opening
Workers on London’s Elizabeth Line are striking on Thursday (Suzan Moore/PA)

NHS officials are working on contingency plans for the planned walkout of nurses on January 18 and 19 and further ambulance service strikes on January 23.

About 45,000 members of the British Medical Association were balloted on Monday over the prospect of strike action, with the result due at the end of February. The BMA has told the Government if there is a yes vote, junior doctors will begin their action with a 72-hour “full walkout” in March.

Junior doctor members of the HCSA are currently voting in a strike ballot which closes on January 20, which could result in walkouts in February.

Meanwhile, NHS leaders will be assessing the impact of Wednesday’s ambulance strikes where up to 25,000 ambulance workers with the GMB and Unison unions staged walkouts.

Dr Adrian Boyle, president of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine, has warned that strike action can lead to “pent-up demand” in the days after walkouts.