(Bloomberg) -- UK Health Secretary Steve Barclay said the government won’t improve a pay offer to publicly-funded National Health Service staff in England, despite the threat of widespread strikes.

Barclay told BBC radio on Wednesday that demands by the nursing union for a pay rise of 5% above the RPI inflation rate — currently at 14.2% — are unaffordable. If the pay of all public sector workers is raised in line with inflation it would cost £28 billion ($34 billion), he said. Asked if he’s willing to improve the government pay offer to NHS staff, Barclay replied: “No.” 

The government is “prioritizing getting the balance in terms of pay,” he said. “We’re looking at all the other things we can do for staff because staff tell me it’s not simply an issue of pay.”

As many as 100,000 nursing staff are planning walkouts on Dec. 15 and 20 affecting about a quarter of England’s hospitals and community services. Ambulance staff, paramedics and call handlers have also voted to strike, with a walkout expected on Dec. 21.

Barclay earlier told Sky News that ambulance worker unions had promised to “cover life-threatening conditions” such as call-outs to heart attacks but that falls from elderly people would not be attended. The minister said he was “open to talks with the trade unions” about the ambulance workers’ walk-out. They’ve rejected a 4% pay award, which the GMB union has described as another “massive real-terms pay cut.”

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