The government was “always willing” to engage with unions on strikes and NHS pay, a minister has claimed.
Cabinet office minister Oliver Dowden told the BBC there were “initial discussions” with the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) and that the deal which has been agreed is a “decent deal”.
His comments came as the British Medical Association (BMA) agreed to enter pay talks after a three-day junior doctors strike that saw 175,000 appointments and procedures cancelled.
Up to 29,243 doctors were off on each day, The Times said, while Professor Sir Stephen Powis, NHS England medical director, said the scale of the strike was “unprecedented”.
It had a “greater impact than all the other industrial action we have seen so far,” he said.
Dowden also told Sky News it “won’t be easy” to find the money for the improved pay offer agreed with nurses and NHS staff.
The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, who has co-ordinated the government’s response to strikes, said: “We can find the money to do this but it won’t be easy.
“I don’t deny for a minute your point, which is that it is challenging to find this money.
“This is why the government held out for so long in respect of these negotiations, because there wasn’t some huge amount of money that we could turn to.”
He said cash could come from the £160bn NHS budget or “wider government spending”.
Talks with the BMA are expected to begin on Tuesday and the union is expected not to announce any further strike dates and to recommend a deal to members if it is agreed.
Co-chairmen of the BMA junior doctors’ committee Dr Vivek Trivedi and Dr Robert Laurenson said: “Junior doctors are keen to see their pay restored and to avoid further disruption to patient care.
“If the health secretary is as committed to finding a settlement as he claims to be, it is within his gift to offer a deal so junior doctors can earn what they are worth.”
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “We are pleased the BMA has now accepted our offer to enter talks based on the same terms as with the Agenda for Change unions, which concluded positively this week.
“We want to find a fair settlement which recognises the crucial role of junior doctors and the wider economic pressures facing the UK, as we have done with other unions.”