Health Secretary Steve Barclay called on nurses and other NHS workers on Tuesday to back a pay offer to end the strikes when a dispute broke out over how it would be financed.
The Treasury agreed to provide further funding to partly pay it off, with a suggestion that it could be more than £3bn, although this figure was disputed by some sources.
The move came before up to 280,000 members of England’s Royal College of Nursing voted whether to accept the government’s NHS pay offer.
Barclay said: “This week NHS nurses, ambulance crews, physiotherapists and other non-medical staff will start voting on union ballots on the government’s pay offer; this is a very positive step after weeks of constructive talks.
“This fair and balanced offer recognizes the vital role these hard-working NHS staff play, while protecting our commitment to halve inflation, and I urge union members to accept our offer.”
He added: “I am working with Treasury to ensure that my department has the money it needs to fully fund this payment offer, which will include additional funding and reprioritization of existing budgets. This is in addition to existing funding we have already made available for a pay increase of up to 3.5% in 2023-24.
“I want to be clear: there will be no impact on frontline services or quality of care as a result of this offer.”
However, some of the funding for the salary agreement is based on the “efficiencies” that are provided within the health service.
But Sir Julian Hartley, chief executive of NHS Providers, which represents acute hospital, ambulance, community and mental health services, said: “There isn’t much left to cut in health and care budgets.
“Any wage increases agreed between the government and the unions must be financed with new money.
“Re-prioritizing existing budgets could drain funding from other vital areas of the NHS in the long term, putting frontline NHS services at risk of being cut or severely reduced.”
He added: “NHS England only has funding for a 3% pay increase. The continued lack of clarity about the source of funds for these new payment offers is very worrying and needs to be resolved as soon as possible so that the trusts and the NHS in England can plan with certainty.”
Most of the new money is believed to be earmarked for the wage deal for this fiscal year, 2022/23.
The health workers’ vote comes after six days of strikes since December in the long-running dispute over wages.
RCN General Secretary and CEO Pat Cullen said that whatever is decided, “we will build on the last few months of campaigning for fair pay and recognition,” and urged members to discuss the offer in their whole.
Members will have until 9:00 a.m. on April 14 to cast their vote on the offer that the RCN Board has recommended be accepted.
The proposed settlement, which involves two one-time payments for the current fiscal year, affects each worker differently, depending on their pay band and pay point.
The combined payments are worth between £1,655 and £3,789, depending on salary band, and are in addition to increases already made this fiscal year.
These are called unvested amounts, as they do not count toward members’ pensions and are not added to your future pay package.
There will be a permanent five percent pay increase across all pay points for 2023-24.
The union also said a series of commitments and plans to improve wages, terms and conditions over time are part of the offer.
These aim to try to help address challenges with career and salary progression within the 2024/25 pay year and improve secure staffing.
Ms Cullen said: “Ministers spent many months ignoring the voice of nursing and forced us to go on an extremely difficult strike before they recognized the need to re-examine pay in the NHS.
“Weeks of negotiation resulted in a new offer and it is only fair that we ask our members to vote again and give their opinion on the government’s proposal.”
Of the proposed deal made on March 16, he said: “We urge our members to look at the offer in its entirety. There are several elements, including a commitment to a policy framework for safe staffing and seeking a new wage column for nursing. .
“Nurses have stood proudly for their profession and for their patients in recent months. Our membership has never been stronger and their determination has led to this new offering.”