RCN demands fresh pay talks following consultant offer

The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) has called on the government to reopen nurse pay talks, following frustration at the pay offer that has been put forward for senior doctors.

RCN general secretary and chief executive Pat Cullen has written to the new health secretary, Victoria Atkins, to express “extreme disappointment” that the government has been unwilling to engage in further negotiations around nursing pay.

“The greatest pay inequality in the NHS relates to nursing”

Pat Cullen

The government has said it will continue to work on the non-pay commitments it had promised in the Agenda for Change deal but that it would not be re-opening negotiations on pay.

It comes as, this week, the British Medical Association (BMA) consultants committee announced that its members would vote on a new pay offer from the government, which included a 4.95% pay increase on top of the 6% already awarded this year.

The deal includes an overhaul of the consultant pay structure and the amount each doctor will get from this new offer will depend on where they are in their career.

However, the BMA said the majority would receive an additional increase, of up to 12.8%.

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The RCN reacted negatively to this announcement earlier this week and warned that the news would make nursing strikes “more likely in the future”.

National industrial action by the RCN came to an end in June after the union failed to meet the 50% legal threshold in its strike ballot.

Now, in what the RCN has described as a “strongly worded letter” to the health secretary, Ms Cullen has called for an urgent meeting to discuss nurse pay, highlighting that the union remains in formal dispute regarding this year’s deal.

She noted that, although the union does not currently have a strike mandate, more than 100,000 RCN members in England voted in favour of continued strike action in the last ballot.

While she welcomed the fact that the government had engaged in meaningful negotiations with other trade unions, Ms Cullen warned that the announcement about consultant pay did nothing to challenge the feeling that the nursing profession is undervalued.

She said: “The government has now shown it has the political will to negotiate on pay reform for some of the highest earners in the NHS in contrast to our members who received the lowest pay rise in the public sector.”

Nurses and other NHS workers on Agenda for Change contracts were handed a 5% pay rise for 2023-24 and a one-off payment of at least £1,655.

The RCN had recommended that its members accept this deal.

However, Ms Cullen explained in her letter today that this award appeared “increasingly inadequate” and had been “constantly eclipsed” by the pay awards for other public sector workers and the latest consultant offer.

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She also pointed towards the inequity of consultant pay being reformed while nurse pay remained stagnant.

“The offer for consultants includes significant reform for a pay scale that has not been modified since 2003”

Government spokesperson

Ms Cullen said that many nurses start and end their career on band 5 – one of the lowest bands of regulated professionals in the NHS.

“It is time for nurses and nursing to be treated with the respect they deserve and for nursing pay also to be reformed,” the letter said.

“Nursing is one of the most diverse and female-dominated professions within the public sector, and the injustice of nursing pay is also a gender issue.”

During the pay negotiations, the government committed to exploring introducing a separate pay spine for nurses, but the RCN has warned that progress on this had been slow.

Ms Cullen said: “The greatest pay inequality in the NHS relates to nursing.

“This must be addressed as a matter of urgency.”

She requested an urgent meeting with the health secretary to discuss the nurse pay dispute.

Responding to the letter, a Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said the government would not re-open pay talks.

They said: “We hugely value the hard work of NHS nurses and that is why we provided a 5% pay rise.

“We also provided two significant non-consolidated awards, which for nurses at the top of band 5 was over £2,000, equivalent to an extra 6.1% of their basic pay.

“This deal was accepted by the NHS Staff Council and we continue to work collaboratively, including with the RCN, to deliver a series of agreed reforms but we will not be re-opening negotiations on pay.

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“The offer for consultants includes significant reform for a pay scale that has not been modified since 2003.”

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