Warning nurse strikes ‘more likely’ after doctors’ pay offer

The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) has said the UK Government’s new pay offer for medical consultants would leave nurses “appalled” at the disparity between the two workforces’ deals.

The British Medical Association (BMA) and Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) announced today that a deal had been issued, and that consultant members of the union would now vote on it.

If the deal is agreed on by BMA members, the union will call an end to strike action. If it is not, a fresh industrial action ballot could be called.

The consultant pay offer

Consultants have been offered a 4.95% pay investment from January 2024, which would be paid retrospectively in April 2024 and is on top of the 6% already implemented in the summer.

Further, the offer significantly changes pay progression. Currently, consultant pay starts at £93,666 and increases at years one, two, three, four, nine, 14, and 19 to a maximum of £126,281.

Under the new offer, pay begins at £99,532 and increases at years three, eight, and 14, at which point they reach the new maximum of £131,964.

These changes to the pay scale will, according to the BMA, mean the majority of consultants will receive an extra 12.8% uplift, depending on their pay point.

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As well as this, the deal will reform the Doctors’ and Dentists’ Renumeration Review Body (DDRB) to prevent the government adding inflation targets to its terms of reference, removing economic performance in remit letters to the body, and allow the BMA a say in the selection of members.

The new pay structure for consultants, if the deal is accepted

This new offer has been welcomed by the parties involved. Dr Vishal Sharma, BMA consultants committee chair, said he was “pleased” to receive a deal, despite his disappointment at the need for strikes.

Prime minister Rishi Sunak and newly-appointed health and social care secretary Victoria Atkins also welcomed it.

However, RCN chief nurse Professor Nicola Ranger said the offer would “ignite” anger in the nursing workforce.

“Nursing staff will be appalled by this announcement and where it leaves them,” said Professor Ranger.

“The government has shown it has the political will to reform pay for some of the highest earners in the NHS – while our members are left with the lowest pay rise in the public sector.”

National industrial action by the RCN came to an end in June, after a fresh strike ballot by the union narrowly missed its 50% turnout threshold, itself following a 5% pay rise for the 2023-24 financial year, and a £1,655 one-off payment.

Nicola Ranger

Professor Ranger continued: “Nursing staff work closely with consultants, and we too have campaigned for years to have quicker progression through the pay scale.

“This would help recognise nurses’ safety-critical and lifesaving skills, and yet many spend most of their career stuck on the same NHS pay band.

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“It’s galling that almost 12 months since nursing staff took the unprecedented decision to strike, our pay dispute remains unresolved, and the government continues to undervalue our profession.”

The RCN chief nurse added that this would make future nursing strikes “more likely in the future”.

Employers and other NHS figures have welcomed the prospect of an end to consultant strikes, ahead of what is looking to be a difficult winter for the health service.

Danny Mortimer, chief executive of NHS Employers, chaired pay talks between the government and medical unions which led to this deal.

“The government has shown it has the political will to reform pay for some of the highest earners in the NHS “

Nicola Ranger

Mr Mortimer said the deal, if accepted, would “resolve important concerns on all sides” regarding pay, and that the changes to the DDRB would help restore confidence on the way pay is decided.

Similarly, Sir Julian Hartley, chief executive at NHS Providers, said: “This development is a vital step towards the government and unions resolving the industrial dispute with consultants in the NHS.

“Industrial action has caused unprecedented disruption in the last year. Over 50 strike days have led to 1.2 million appointments for planned care being pushed back and cost the NHS an estimated £1.4bn through lost income and staff cover.

“Trust leaders will be hugely relieved that consultants won’t be striking over Christmas given that demand for care is always higher in winter.”

Meanwhile, Dr Sharma of the BMA said: “We are pleased that after a month of intense talks and more than six months of strike action we never wanted to take, we have now got an offer we can put to members.

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“It is a huge shame that it has needed consultants to take industrial action to get the government to this point when we called for talks many months ago.

“The 4.95% investment and much-needed changes to the pay scale system comes after we successfully persuaded the Government to reform the punitive pension taxation laws earlier this year, and we also now have commitments to reforming the pay review process, which has been a key ask from the profession throughout our dispute.”

The prime minister said the end to “damaging strike action” was necessary to his political goals of cutting NHS waiting lists.

He added: “This is a fair deal for consultants who will benefit from major reform to their contract, it is fair for taxpayers because it will not risk our ongoing work to tackle inflation, and most importantly it is a good deal for patients to see the end of consultant industrial action.”

Ms Atkins, who was appointed at DHSC just two weeks ago, echoed Mr Sunak’s comments about waiting lists, and said: “I hugely value the work of NHS consultants and am pleased that we have been able to make this fair and reasonable offer after weeks of constructive negotiations.

“If accepted, it will modernise pay structures, directly addressing gender pay issues in the NHS. It will also enhance consultants’ parental leave options.”

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