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UK's Hunt hopeful of pay deal with health staff on Thursday

Britain's Chancellor of the Exchequer Jeremy Hunt walks at Downing Street in London

LONDON (Reuters) -British finance minister Jeremy hunt said he hoped a pay deal would be reached between the government and healthcare workers on Thursday after months of strikes in the state-run service.

The National Health Service (NHS), which was hit hard by coronavirus pandemic, has come under further strain after nurses, doctors and ambulance workers staged walk-outs to demand higher wages amid a cost-of-living crisis.

Millions of patients are on waiting lists for operations.

When asked if a pay deal with healthcare workers could be expected on Thursday, Hunt told the BBC: "I hope so ... We have engaged very productively with the NHS (National Health Service) unions and so I'm keeping my fingers crossed."

A breakthrough in the dispute would relieve some of the pressure on Prime Minister Rishi Sunak who has faced the worst run of worker unrest since Margaret Thatcher was in power in the 1980s.

Half a million civil servants, teachers, junior doctors, rail workers and other public sector workers walked out on Wednesday, the government's budget announcement day.

The BBC said the deal that could be reached on Thursday would cover ambulance workers, nurses, midwives and physiotherapists, but not doctors.

The government has said pay rises matching inflation's surge above 10% would be unaffordable and only cause more price rises, further pushing up borrowing costs.

Hunt told Sky News that the pay negotiations were making "encouraging progress."

(Reporting by Muvija M and Farouq Suleiman; Editing by William Schomberg and Kate Holton)