The UK health secretary has reportedly told unions he wants to persuade the Treasury to offer higher pay rises to NHS workers, while nurses have threatened to double down on strike efforts next month.
Unison’s Sara Gorton has revealed that Steve Barclay’s tone has been “very different” in negotiations this week, and he privately told unions he wanted to secure a better pay offer from Number 10, according to The Observer.
Ms Gorton told the newspaper that Mr Barclay had “talked about asking us to help make the case to the Treasury for the investment needed”.
She added that the health secretary appeared willing to talk about more pay for this year for all NHS staff except doctors.
The Observer suggested this had opened up a Cabinet split, with UK prime minister Rishi Sunak and chancellor Jeremy Hunt refusing to move from their stance that the UK government cannot make health workers an improved offer.
Meanwhile, the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) has warned that double the number of nurses will be asked to strike in early February in a bid to increase pressure on the government.
RCN general secretary Pat Cullen described the prime minister’s position in their negotiation deadlock as “baffling, reckless and politically ill-considered” as he “appears entirely uninterested in finding a way to stop this”.
This comes as ministers push for new laws requiring minimum levels of service on strike days – legislation which is expected to take around six months to pass through Parliament.
The Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Bill is due to be considered again by MPs on Monday.
Nurses in England will return to picket lines on Wednesday and Thursday, accusing the UK government of having “failed to act” after their historic industrial action in December.
The RCN said that, unlike its action in December which involved around a quarter of hospitals and community teams in England, all trusts in Northern Ireland and all but one health board in Wales, this week’s strikes will take place in England only.
During its action, the union said a “life preserving care model” is in place, meaning areas such as critical care units and chemotherapy services are exempt, while in-patient areas are on night-duty staffing levels.
Civil servants are the latest to join the ranks of striking workers, amid growing industrial unrest which has seen stoppages across the country including by ambulance workers, staff on the railways and Border Force staff.
This week will also see London bus workers at Abellio strike on Monday and Thursday.
North of the border, members of the Educational Institute of Scotland will engage in further strike action this week.