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Saturday, February 4, 2023

UK striking health staff may get revised pay – if they agree to “efficiencies” says Health Secretary

Health Secretary Steve Barclay has suggested striking health workers should be given a revised pay offer – if they agree to “efficiency” in the NHS.

In the Sunday Telegraph, Mr Barclay said he was “prepared to engage” with unions on how the government could “support the workforce”.

The NHS has seen widespread strikes in recent weeks over a pay dispute.

Shadow Health Secretary Andrew Gwynne said a decade of underfunding by Tory governments had stretched the NHS.

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It comes a day after health leaders held talks with the government to tackle the problems facing the NHS – which Prime Minister Rishi Sunak described as “very valuable”.

Ambulance workers are due to leave again this week and nurses later in the month. And from Monday, junior doctors in England will be voted on strike action.

The union insists the current pay deal needs to be reopened and Pat Cullen, general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, said the action could be called off if the government backs down and negotiates pay.

Speaking to the Telegraph, Mr Barclay – who was re-appointed as health minister by Mr Sunak in October after a brief spell at the start of the year – admitted the recent strikes had disrupted the health service and caused more than 30,000 appointments to be rescheduled.

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“While those who have continued to work have done a formidable job – brilliantly supported by our armed forces – we know that the quality of care patients have received has suffered as a result,” he said.

He also said the government planned to “introduce new legislation” to ensure minimum staffing levels in emergency services, saying such “pragmatic” steps would be similar to actions taken in countries such as France and Germany.

But he also hinted at room for negotiation with the union, saying he would like to hold talks to see if a settlement could be agreed on any revised wage offer.

He described a recent visit to one of the NHS’s 42 new control centres, which use live hospital data and digital alerts to ensure the typical time a bed remains empty has been reduced from three hours to one hour.

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He said that when NHS trusts found and widely implemented “productivity and efficiency opportunities” that would make it “affordable” for the government to fund revised pay offers for staff.

Mr Barclay acknowledged the challenges in the health sector and also said he would make an announcement on Monday to “improve the flow of our hospitals”.

“This is the kind of work we’re committed to continuing to do, solving people’s problems and moving the country forward, rather than being stuck in a loop with the unions,” he said.

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