A NURSES’ union leader has praised Nicola Sturgeon for the way she engaged in pay talks that led to strikes being paused.

The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) suspended plans to take industrial action in Scotland last month after “positive” discussions with the First Minister which included a revised pay offer - equivalent to an average 7.5% increase - which members are now being consulted on.

But in England, Wales and Northern Ireland up to 100,000 nurses are still set to walk out on Thursday in what will inevitably cause disruption for patients.

The union – which is campaigning for a pay rise of 5% above RPI inflation - is calling on Health Secretary Steve Barclay to choose “negotiations over picket lines”.

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In an interview with the BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg on Sunday, RCN general secretary Pat Cullen called on the UK Government to meet with her urgently to talk about the ongoing row over pay.

And she said coming to a quick resolution with Sturgeon in Scotland was an example of how nurses “are not for digging in” in the dispute.

Cullen said: “The Health Secretary can choose negotiation over picket lines. My door is open.

“As soon as the Health Secretary gets into a room with me, I will certainly not be found wanting in my negotiations.

“I won’t dig in if he doesn’t dig in.

“Look what happened in Scotland when the First Minister asked to meet me. It was on a Friday and by Friday evening we had suspended our strike dates for Scotland.

“So that’s very much demonstrating we aren’t for digging in, that’s not what nurses do and I’m a nurse, so come on, let’s have the discussions and let’s have the negotiation.”

The planned action marks the first nationwide strike in the RCN’s history and it is feared it could leave A&E and maternity services with “Christmas Day” levels of staffing.

Meanwhile on Sunday morning, Foreign Secretary James Cleverly told Kuenssberg that Barclay has and will continue to talk to nursing unions, but said there is a system in place around pay which means unions must discuss this with their employer, the NHS.

He said the Government has to be "good custodians" of the public purse which is why they cannot agree to the pay rise being demanded.

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Cleverly said: "Ultimately, salary negotiations are done between union leaders on behalf of their members and their employer. And in this instance, the nurses' employer is the NHS.

"We massively value what medical professionals do, my mum was a midwife in the NHS throughout her whole life. 

"But ultimately, we've got to make sure we are good custodians of the public purse.

"We've put a process in place specifically for those salary negotiations for a reason and the independent review body has made a recommendation, the government has accepted it fully, and that means there will be a significant increase in pay particularly for those nurses at the start of their career on lower salaries." 

The accepted recommendations from the NHS pay review body mean newly qualified nurses will receive a 5.5% increase while those on the lowest salaries, such as cleaners, will get a 9.3% increase.