Pat Cullen, general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, urged the Government to get round the table “very quickly” as the union’s annual conference took place in Brighton.
It comes as senior doctors and teachers are on Monday being balloted for strike action.
Members of the British Medical Association started voting on Monday in their continuing dispute over pay. Dr Vishal Sharma, who chairs the BMA consultants committee, said the union had been “left with no option but to proceed today with the ballot for industrial action”.
Members of the National Association of Head Teachers were also being balloted, along with teachers who are members of the National Education Union who are being re-balloted on Monday because their current mandate for industrial action ends on July 13. The NEU has already organised five national strike days in the past months.
Education unions have agreed to co-ordinate strike action in the autumn term. NEU joint secretaries Mary Bousted and Kevin Courtney blamed a “lack of engagement” from the Government, but said it was “never too late for the Education Secretary to come to the negotiating table and make an improved offer”.
A spokeswoman for the Department for Education said the move was “bitterly disappointing”.
Members of the Royal College of Nursing will begin a new ballot for strike action on May 23 after the existing six-month mandate ran out at the start of the month. Ms Cullen told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme the only way forward involved dialogue. She said: “Really and truly it’s up to Government to get round the table very quickly.
“If you listen to the stories our nursing staff are telling us in Brighton, they are harrowing, they are working in a health service that’s not just causing patients real damage in terms of the care they cannot get, but it’s also having a real impact on our nursing staff who are really struggling.”
A Department of Health spokesman said that the Government’s pay offer was “fair” and that there were “no plans to reopen negotiations on this deal”.
Referring to the BMA ballot, the spokesman said: “We hugely value the work of NHS consultants and they received a 4.5 per cent pay uplift last financial year increasing average earnings to around £128,000.
“They will also benefit from generous changes to pension taxation announced at budget and are eligible to apply for additional financial awards worth up to £40,000 a year as part of the NHS consultant contract. We urge the BMA to carefully consider the likely impact of any action on patients.”
Meanwhile, Ms Cullen insisted that her position was not “confusing” for nurses. She had initially urged members to accept the Government’s revised pay offer of five per cent for this year and a one-off payment for last year.
Members of the union rejected the offer and the RCN is planning to ballot nurses to see whether they are prepared to stage further strikes.
Asked about Energy Secretary Grant Shapps describing her stance as “confusing”, Ms Cullen told the Today programme: “No, it’s not confusing.
“Tens of thousands of my members voted to tell the Government their last offer was not good enough, that’s very clear. What was the offer? It was basically a consolidated 9% over a couple of years, and that’s a really important point. And we’re saying to government, let’s negotiate further and add to it.”