RCN's Josie Irwin urges negotiators to be realistic as nursing pay and contract talks resume

Talks on nursing pay and contract reforms have restarted with the RCN suggesting promised NHS funding be used to improve pay structures.

Talks on nursing pay and contract reforms have restarted with the RCN suggesting promised NHS funding be used to improve pay structures.

  • Government promised to fund a pay rise in November budget providing other talks were fruitful
  • 14 trade unions represent 1.3 million NHS staff

The college and other unions have rejoined exploratory discussions with employers and Department of Health and Social Care negotiators following the festive break.

In the November budget, chancellor Philip Hammond promised to fund a pay rise provided the talks on wider NHS contract and productivity reforms prove fruitful.

Josie Irwin
RCN associate director for employment relations Josie Irwin. Picture: Barney Newman

Updating members on the talks in a blog on the RCN website, college associate director for employment relations Josie Irwin writes: 'We want to see if the money that the chancellor said he would make available in return for "productivity" and "contract reform" can be used to make the pay structure better and fairer as well as giving staff a meaningful pay rise.'

Competing priorities, but binding overall goals

She adds that although the 14 trade unions representing 1.3 million NHS staff have competing priorities: 'Our overall goals of closing the pay gap and investment in reform are simple, clear and bind us together.

'We agree that valuing nurses is part of the solution.'

Claiming a shortage of nurses has brought the NHS to ‘tipping point’, Ms Irwin says a pay rise – alongside good career prospects – will encourage staff to stay in their jobs.

She adds: 'We also agree that we need to dispel the government’s argument of productivity. It’s clear nurses can’t work any harder. 

'Capacity can be increased by different, more efficient ways of working, including better line management and leadership that make it easier for nursing staff to deliver safe, effective care.'

Realistic negotiations needed

Ms Irwin adds that there is a need to be realistic in their negotiations.

She writes: 'The money the chancellor has promised if a deal can be done is a one-off. Economic conditions may be challenging now but the outlook post Brexit, which is scarily close – just over a year to go – is of even greater uncertainty. If we can’t do a deal now we are looking at the return of the cap or perhaps worse. '

Ms Irwin says if negotiators reach a point where they feel they have reached the 'best possible package', then members will be consulted for their views.

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