Nurses in England will pause months of strike action over pay after the UK government agreed to hold “intensive talks”, both sides said on Tuesday.
Members of the Royal College of Nursing had been due to walk out for 48 hours next Wednesday, the latest in a series of stoppages unprecedented in the union’s 106-year history.
They are part of a wave of UK industrial action which has seen workers ranging from paramedics to train drivers to teachers go on strike over the last year amid decades-high inflation.
Nurses and ambulance drivers have even walked out on the same day for the first time.
The UK government has been refusing to discuss pay levels for the current fiscal year, insisting salaries have already been set for public sector workers by independent pay review bodies.
Ministers also argue that the country, which is grappling with a cost-of-living crisis as inflation remains stubbornly above 10 percent, cannot afford increases at or near these decades-high rates.
But in a joint statement Tuesday with the RCN, the Department of Health and Social Care said the two camps had agreed “to enter a process of intensive talks”.
“Both sides are committed to finding a fair and reasonable settlement that recognises the vital role that nurses and nursing play in the National Health Service and the wider economic pressures facing the United Kingdom,” it said.
“The talks will focus on pay, terms and conditions, and productivity-enhancing reforms.”
The joint statement noted that Health Secretary Steve Barclay will meet with RCN representatives on Wednesday to begin the discussions.
“The Royal College of Nursing will pause strike action during these talks,” it added.
Health staff says wages that have not kept pace with inflation over the past decade, combined with the current cost of living crisis, have left them struggling to pay their bills.
Opinion polls have shown broad public support for the nurses’ plight, with a majority backing their walkouts for better pay. 18 registered political parties.