Downing Street is believed to be considering a one-off payment for nurses after rejecting the idea before Christmas.
About six weeks ago Steve Barclay, the health secretary, floated the idea of giving nurses a single payment to cover the increased cost of living this financial year, ending in April, but Downing Street and the Treasury rejected it, Sky News understands.
It is understood No 10 is now warming to the idea as nurses prepare for strike action on 18 and 19 January after walking out for the first time before Christmas.
Rishi Sunak on Monday refused to confirm or deny if the government was considering a one-off payment but said the most important thing is “talks are happening”.
The Royal College of Nursing has said it would accept a pay rise of about 10% – down from its initial demand of 19% – if the government could meet them halfway.
The union said it would call off strike action if the government discussed pay for this financial year, but ministers have said that was all decided long ago and they only want to talk about next year’s pay.
RCN England director Patricia Marquis told Sky News: “We’ll be interested, of course, to hear what Steve Barclay’s got to say.
“But unless we’re able to have some conversation about this year’s pay award, then sadly this isn’t going to resolve the dispute that we currently have with the government.”
Read more: Who is striking and when this month?
Health union bosses are meeting the health secretary today for talks on pay and conditions in a major break-through for workers after the government initially said it was for the independent pay review bodies to negotiate pay, not ministers.
The government is also meeting train and teachers’ union leaders ahead of further strikes by those industries.
Mr Sunak said the government’s door “is always open” to unions for talks on pay if they are “based on what’s affordable, what’s responsible and what’s reasonable”.
A deal is not expected to be agreed upon today for any of the unions, but the fact they are meeting is an important step forward.
Junior doctors – any doctor below consultant level – have started voting today on whether to carry out a “full walkout” in March, with a result expected by the end of February.
About 45,000 British Medical Association (BMA) members are being balloted as they call for better pay, having been excluded from an NHS pay rise this year because their contract is subject to a multi-pay deal, agreed in 2019 and ending in March, that gave them a 2% rise for 2022/2023.
The BMA said junior doctors in England have seen a real-term pay cut over the past 15 years, which amounts to a 26.1% decline in pay since 2008/9.
The union confirmed it has not been invited to today’s pay talks with ministers, who it says have recommended they again get a 2% pay rise next year.