The Health Secretary will hold a further meeting with the head of the Royal College of Nursing as the battle over pay and conditions continues.

Pat Cullen told members of the RCN at their annual conference in Brighton that she is set to meet Steve Barclay though it is “not about negotiations” and she will explain again why nurses have rejected the current pay settlement.

An RCN postal ballot on further industrial action will open on May 23 and close on June 23.

The RCN has warned that strikes could go on until Christmas, which would force the cancellation of thousands of patient operations and appointments.

Ms Cullen said to applause: “In seven days from now, nursing staff in England will receive fresh ballot papers on the question of whether to continue with strike action for up to six more months.

“If you give the college another six-month mandate for strike action, across the whole of England’s NHS, then Government will be forced to act once more.”

She added that “‘they’ might even be watching congress”, adding: “I’ll tell you why. Who emailed me last night at nine o’clock?”

To cheers from the audience, she said: “The Health Secretary wants to see me.

“Colleagues, this is not about negotiations, but it is important that I go and tell him again why many of you voted to reject the pay offer.”

Ms Cullen later told reporters she has sent three letters to Mr Barclay “and I was very pleased to get a response last night”.

She added: “As I said in my speech, it’s very clear. It’s not about negotiations opening up but it is important that I go along and state the case again for our members, and I will do that as soon as congress is over.”

She said Mr Barclay had made it clear in his correspondence the meeting will not be about “opening up negotiations”.

She said a date has not yet been set for the meeting.

Asked what it will take to satisfy RCN members on pay, Ms Cullen refused to be drawn on the exact figure needed, saying being in a room with Mr Barclay is the “right and proper place to negotiate”.

She added: “But if you look at that hall today, at the thousands of nurses that have come along to congress and their conference, we owe it to every single one of them to get into a negotiating room and to finish that work off.

“I’ve said to the Prime Minister, ‘Let’s get that done as quickly as possible and let those nurses get back to their work. But in order to address the crisis that we’ve got, and the fragility within the health service as we stand at the minute, that’s not going to be addressed unless we address pay…’

“Every one of us will need a nurse at some point in our lives and they’re not going to be there…

“At some stage you will need a nurse and unless we really waken up to this, we aren’t going to have those nurses there to care for us if we don’t pay them properly.”

Ms Cullen said nurses “live and breathe optimism” and “now we need that optimism to make sure we get into that room and negotiate as quickly as possible and get the best deal for every singe nurse”.

She said she will tell Mr Barclay sensibility is needed from all parties, adding: “We need to own and the Secretary of State needs to own the crisis that healthcare is in within this country…

Standing outside our work became the only way to change what was happening inside

Pat Cullen

“And once he feels that and owns that, he will do the right thing.”

She said the Government cannot “ignore the voice of 30,000 nurses that will be balloted” later in May and “if they do that, they will do that at risk”.

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesman said: “We hugely value the work of nurses and it is disappointing that RCN leadership now want to escalate strike action, even though they recommended the Government’s pay offer to their members.

“The majority of unions on the NHS Staff Council voted to accept the Government’s fair and reasonable pay offer – which includes a double-digit pay rise of 10.7% over two years for nurses at the entry point of band 5.

“We hope RCN members recognise this is a fair deal and decide it is time to bring industrial action to an end.”

Earlier, Ms Cullen told RCN members she has never “met a nurse or support worker who wanted to be on a picket line”.

She added: “Standing outside our work became the only way to change what was happening inside.

Patients are not dying because nurses are striking, nurses are striking because our patients are dying

Pat Cullen

“Patients are not dying because nurses are striking, nurses are striking because our patients are dying. It is as clear as that.”

Ms Cullen has urged ministers to prevent nurses from going into the winter months on strike.

She initially urged members to accept the Government’s revised pay offer of 5% for this year and a one-off payment for last year.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Monday, she said: “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’.”

Ms Cullen was referring to the 4% pay uplift from 2022/23 and the 5% for 2023/24 consolidated.

Downing Street said some nurses would have got double-digit pay rises under the deal rejected by RCN members.

All the unions involved in industrial disputes over the past year, including the RCN, have stressed to members the importance of voting because of legislation on ballots.

The Trade Union & Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992 sets out the legal requirements in respect of industrial action in England, Scotland and Wales.

It was amended in 2016 to cover turnout, with additional requirements for public services. There is separate legislation in Northern Ireland.

In England, Scotland and Wales, the legislation says industrial action ballots must attract at least a 50% turnout and the majority must vote ‘yes’ for action to be lawful.

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