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Health unions could call off strikes as Steve Barclay opens door to pay talks

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Health unions in England are considering suspending strike action to enter talks with the government after Steve Barclay signalled he was willing to discuss a one-off cost of living payment for the current year.The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) temporarily called off strikes last week to enter “intensive” negotiations with the health secretary.

That move infuriated other unions involved in NHS stoppages, which vowed to press ahead with strikes.With the GMB threatening to escalate action by ambulance workers, and up to 32,000 Unison members expected to stop work next Wednesday, Barclay wrote to the NHS Staff Council, calling for talks.The Staff Council, which includes representatives of workers and NHS employers, as well as the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC), is the usual forum for discussing NHS pay.According to sources with knowledge of Barclay’s letter, it set out the government’s willingness to discuss a “non-consolidated” – one-off – payment for the current financial year, as well as the pay deal for 2023-24.NHS unions have repeatedly urged ministers to talk about pay for the current financial year, pointing to the impact of the cost of living crisis on their members, but the government had previously insisted it would not do so.However, Barclay’s letter also said unions involved in the discussions would have to suspend strikes as a precondition of talks, and would have to commit in advance to recommend any deal reached to their members.The unions involved are holding urgent discussions about whether to accept Barclay’s invitation, and demanding confirmation from the government that new money will be on the table.Rachel Harrison, the GMB national secretary, said: “The government has finally realised

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