Health unions have agreed to seek clarification on key issues in the government's proposals for a new NHS pay system.

But they are no closer to deciding who will represent them in detailed talks on the plans.

There is a possibility that adjourned talks will start again in three weeks' time, at a regular meeting of the social partnership forum. It is chaired by NHS human resources director Hugh Taylor and brings together employers' representatives, civil servants and unions.

NHS Confederation human resources chair Andrew Foster said: 'Most of the major participants will be there. We want to get things going as soon as possible.'

But the main barrier to restarting the talks - the participation of Unison - remains. The union's health policy committee met last week, but failed to agree that its officials should take part.

Some unions now believe that national talks will not resume until after Unison's annual health conference, due to be held in Brighton the week after the forum meets.

The union's health policy committee has tabled a motion to the conference expressing disappointment that 'discussions on a new system have not yet begun' despite Unison's 'efforts to get talks started' and calling on the government to begin them 'as a matter of urgency'.

Managers' leaders are reluctant to comment publicly on the impasse. But other unions, while accepting Unison's difficulties, are beginning to hint that the talks cannot be put off indefinitely and may start without the biggest health union.

A staff-side meeting last week agreed that clarification is needed on three points in the proposed new system, set out in the consultation document Agenda for Change, and whether they are negotiable. They are the three separate pay spines proposed for doctors, nurses and other staff; local terms and conditions; and equal value.

The Health Education Authority has launched an action plan to help the NHS improve the working environment and the health and well-being of its employees.

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