Healthcare workers in England and the British government have reached an agreement on pay, the i newspaper reported on Thursday, in what would be a breakthrough following months of strikes in the state-run National Health Service.
The government, led by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, is under growing pressure to quell the longest run of worker unrest in the country since the 1980s, with strikes affecting almost every aspect of a normal life from healthcare and transport to schools and border checks.
The newspaper report said the proposed deal would resolve a dispute among nurses and ambulance workers, with a tentative agreement expected to be announced later on Thursday.
The BBC reported that a one-off payment “well above £1,000” was being offered for 2022-23 along with a pay rise closer to 5% for 2023-24.
The government’s health department did not immediately respond to Reuters’ requests for a comment on the reported agreement, while trade unions representing different NHS workers also did not confirm a deal.
Earlier, finance minister Jeremy Hunt made optimistic comments about an imminent resolution with NHS staff earlier in the day.
“I hope so … We have engaged very productively with the NHS unions and so I’m keeping my fingers crossed,” he told the BBC.
Any offer would still be put to a vote among union members working for the health service, which has been under strain from walkouts by nurses, doctors and ambulance workers for higher wages to cope with surging inflation.
The potential breakthrough comes just a day after half a million Britons went on strikes to coincide with his presentation of the government’s budget, some parts of which opposition Labour Party has accused as being “the wrong priority, at the wrong time, for the wrong people”.
The NHS, which has been free at the point of use since 1948 and a source of pride for many Britons, has been particularly impacted as it was already grappling with a staffing crunch and just coming off the pandemic-induced strain on its capacity.
A resolution would be a huge relief, not just for the government and staff but also patients as a record 7.2 million Britons are on waiting lists for treatment.
A union representing junior doctors, 50,000 of whom are currently on strike, told Reuters that their dispute would not be covered in the deal.
In February, nurses in England paused strike action to enter intensive talks with the government, while unions representing ambulance workers also called off planned strikes after agreeing a fresh round of talks.
Before reports of a deal Unite said it expected significant movement today. It did not offer further comment after the report. Asked about the i report, Unison said talks were ongoing.
The GMB union did not respond to a request for a comment on the deal. The Royal College of Nursing referred enquiries to the government and did not comment on the report.