Unions members will soon vote on the proposal which could bring an end to months of industrial action
Months of strikes by healthcare workers could be brought to an end if NHS workers in England agree to back a pay offer recommended by unions.
The offer – backed by the Royal College of Nursing, the GMB and Unison – includes a one-off lump sum for 2022-23 that rises in value up the NHS pay bands as well as a permanent 5% rise on all pay points for 2023-24.
The breakthrough on Thursday came following days of talks between health unions and the Government, raising hopes that the long-running dispute could be brought to an end.
But questions were quickly raised about how the Treasury and the Department of Health would fund the new offer.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak insisted that frontline services will “absolutely not” be affected by any final pay deal while Health Secretary Steve Barclay said funding for the agreement would not come at the expense of patients.
Union members will now vote on whether to accept the deal, with workers expected to consider the detail over the coming days and weeks.
The offer has already seen planned strikes called off.
Unison’s head of health Sara Gorton said: “It’s a shame it took so long to get here. Health workers had to take many days of strike action, and thousands more had to threaten to join them, to get their unions into the room and proper talks under way.
“But following days of intensive talks between the Government, unions and employers, there’s now an offer on the table for NHS staff.
“If accepted, the offer would boost pay significantly this year and mean a wage increase next year that’s more than the Government had budgeted for.
“This is better than having to wait many more months for the NHS pay review body to make its recommendation.”
Rachel Harrison, GMB national secretary, said that the union’s members “should rightly be proud of themselves”.
“It’s been a tough road but they have faced down the Department of Health and won an offer that we feel is the best that can be achieved at this stage through negotiation.”
Royal College of Nursing (RCN) general secretary Pat Cullen said: “The Government was forced into these negotiations and to reopen the pay award as a result of the historic pressure from nursing staff. Members took the hardest of decisions to go on strike and I believe they have been vindicated today.”
But Unite said that the offer was not one it could recommend to members. General secretary Sharon Graham said that “ultimately it is important that our members make the final decision. Unite will support members in whichever decision they now make”.
The union’s national officer, Onay Kasab, warned that the one-off payment would do nothing to solve the recruitment problems facing the NHS.
“That is not going to do anything to help new people come into the NHS. It’s not going to deal with the recruitment crisis,” he told BBC Newsnight.
Downing Street and Chancellor Jeremy Hunt rejected any suggestion that the offer could be inflationary, as Mr Sunak signalled that agreement on pay with healthcare workers could lay the foundations for deals with other striking public sector workers.
“We want to have constructive dialogue with unions,” Mr Sunak said during a visit to a hospital in south London.
“Please come and get round the table, I am confident we can find a way through this. Today’s agreement demonstrates we are serious about this and we can find workable solutions.”
It remains unclear when details will emerge about how the pay offer will be funded.
A Government spokesperson said: “The department has already made funding available for 3.5% for pay in 2023/24 in its existing budgets, and HMT and DHSC will work together to resolve any new funding needs in the usual way.”
But Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, warned that the NHS does not have the money “just lying around” to fund the pay offer itself.
He warned that it will be “very important that we find out in the next few days how we’re going to meet this extra cost”.
Mr Taylor added: “The Government has said in its press release today that the cost of this will be met without any impact on patient services or quality of care. Well, that’s a good guarantee. And we’ll want to see that being delivered on in the next few days.
“There’s no way that the NHS can find one-and-a-half, two billion, two-and-a-half billion pounds without an impact on patient services or quality of care. We don’t have that money just lying around,” he told Channel 4 News.
The Government is still facing a separate dispute with junior doctors after a walk-out by tens of thousands of staff this week caused disruption across the NHS in England.
The British Medical Association is demanding “pay restoration” for junior doctors, who can have many years of experience and make up about 45% of the medical workforce.
The union says their pay has fallen in real terms by 26% since 2008/09 and reversing this would require a 35.3% pay rise.
The Health Secretary called on junior doctors to follow the example of other health unions.
“We have offered the same terms to the junior doctors that were accepted by the other trade unions and that is what I hope the junior doctors will respond to,” Mr Barclay said.