NHS pay rise ‘could be fast-tracked next year’ after strikes

Unions have said they expect NHS workers to be offered a 2 per cent rise in 2023

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A pay rise for National Health Service staff could be fast-tracked next year after 48 hours of historic strikes by nurses and paramedics, according to reports.

Thousands of nurses picketed on Tuesday while ambulance staff staged their biggest strike in 30 years on Wednesday.

The Daily Telegraph reported that Health Secretary Steve Barclay is poised to offer an expedited pay deal.

It comes after unions and ministers remained in stalemate over pay negotiations on Wednesday night.

The Telegraph said a source close to Mr Barclay, who was criticised by unions for suggesting striking health workers had “made a conscious choice to inflict harm on patients”, revealed he was keen to “speed up the process” to give NHS staff a pay rise early next year to break the deadlock.

Unions have said they expect NHS workers to be offered a 2 per cent increase next year, based on a letter sent by Mr Barclay last month to the NHS Pay Review Body.

Meanwhile, health leaders have warned that disruption to care after strikes this week is likely to continue in the coming days.

There are fears that people whose conditions might have worsened because they delayed seeking help, the membership organisation for National Health Service hospital, mental health, community and ambulance services said.

NHS Providers said they anticipated a return to “very high numbers” of emergency calls and also warned about the knock-on effect to appointments that have to be rescheduled.

The number of people phoning 999 appeared to have dropped in some parts of England on Wednesday as thousands of ambulance staff and paramedics went on strike until midnight.

NHS Providers said there had been “varying levels of disruption” across the country, with some demand shifting to other services or not happening as expected.

But the organisation said demand for care across the whole healthcare system remained high and that trust leaders were reporting continuing delays to ambulance services and overcrowding at some accident and emergency departments.

Nurses strike in the UK - in pictures

Some ambulance trusts reported fewer calls during the day. The West Midlands Ambulance Trust thanked people for heeding their advice to only call in an emergency.

NHS Providers said it had reports of trust leaders and staff feeling “a sense of helplessness and moral injury” at not being able to provide the appropriate help as nurses and ambulance workers go on strike.

But it said trust leaders “of course understand” the strong feelings of nurses and ambulance staff, and appealed for “urgent, serious talks, including on pay” between the government and unions to avoid more industrial action.

“Leaders across the NHS also know that as this week’s strike action draws to a close, the disruption is far from over," said Saffron Cordery, interim chief executive of NHS Providers.

“The fallout from strike action is likely to spill over into the coming days due to the knock-on impact across different parts of the health and care system, the need to reschedule elective and outpatient appointments, and the anticipation of a return to very high numbers of emergency calls.

“There is particular concern about patients who may have delayed seeking care, and whose conditions have deteriorated, now coming forward for treatment.”

UK strikes – in pictures

Health leaders urged people to call for an ambulance if they were experiencing a life-threatening emergency, amid fears that even those who needed help would not contact them.

“There may be a number of reasons why 999 calls are dropping," said Dr Adrian Boyle, president of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine.

"Hesitancy may be a key factor during the industrial action. We want to reassure patients and the public that if they need emergency care, A&Es remain open.”

A West Midlands Ambulance Service spokesman said it had been experiencing fewer calls than normal.

In that region, the GMB and Unite unions had agreed to respond to category one and serious category two calls.

The Welsh Ambulance Service said “demand is manageable” but warned that “any influx of calls would put significant pressure on our service”.

Meanwhile, the East Midlands Ambulance Service said on Wednesday afternoon that it was too early to say how the service was coping.

Its advice to the public remained to only call 999 if there was a risk to life or if somebody was seriously ill or injured.

UK nurses walk out for second time threatening further strikes in pay dispute - video

Up to half of its more than 4,000 workforce were GMB members who were on strike.

The trust said it had agreed on exemptions with the union for staff to either attend category one calls and the most serious category two calls such as chest pain, strokes, gynaecological emergencies where mother or baby are at risk, road traffic accidents where a patient is trapped, and unwell children aged five and under.

South Central Ambulance Service told PA its main effect from strikes was patient transport services in Sussex and Surrey, rather than urgent and emergency care services.

The London Ambulance Service declined to comment on how services were running.

Earlier on Wednesday, there was a bitter war of words between unions and Mr Barclay, who has said he will not back down on pay.

He said the Unite, Unison and GMB unions had “refused” to work with the government at the national level to set out plans for dealing with the strikes.

But the unions said all those agreements had been made locally and were in place.

Unite general secretary Sharon Graham accused Mr Barclay of a “blatant lie” in saying ambulance unions had made a “conscious decision” to inflict harm on patients.

Earlier, Mr Barclay said there was a need to “look forward” to next year’s pay process after he declined to review the current offer.

A paramedic based in Nottinghamshire said that patients’ lives had been at risk for a long time because of problems in the NHS.

“I’ve attended elderly patients who have been on the floor with broken hips for over 20 hours," said Tom, 33, from the East Midlands Ambulance Service.

“They’ve been waiting that long that their limbs have started to become necrotic [with dying tissue], resulting in major surgery to remove said limbs.”

Strikes across the UK - in pictures

He said that at one point, 11 ambulances were stuck at a hospital waiting to hand over patients to A&E.

“The conditions we work in on a regular basis don’t enable us to do the job we want to do to its full capacity, and is putting patients’ lives at risk long before strikes were even considered,” Tom said.

Most ambulance trusts in England are on their highest level of alert, meaning they cannot provide usual critical services and patients experience harm.

Updated: December 22, 2022, 6:02 AM