Health unions are already gearing up for a fight over NHS pay, as rumours grow that the Department of Health will reject another 1% increase in favour of an alternative linked to further pay reform.
The Department of Health this afternoon confirmed that the NHS pay review body will tomorrow publish its annual recommendations on whether staff should receive a rise in basic pay in April and, if so, how much it should be.
The government will release its official response to the review body’s recommendation at the same time, though the department would not provide any further details in advance.
“We expect the chancellor to honour the NHS pay review body recommendation”
All NHS employees covered by the Agenda for Change framework received a 1% rise last April, bringing to an end a two year pay freeze.
As yet, there has been no official confirmation or denial of what the review body will recommend or how the government will respond.
But speculation has been rife over what will be announced, particularly following today’s prime minister’s questions in the Commons.
The Labour MP Heidi Alexander asked deputy prime minister Nick Clegg – standing in for David Cameron – if he could confirm that the pay review body had recommended a rise and asked whether the government would accept it.
However, Mr Clegg did not answer the question directly, merely saying an announcement was due on the matter soon.
This prompted Labour health spokesman Andy Burnham to tweet: “After that answer, looks like coalition are freezing nurses’ pay. If so, that’s a kick in the teeth for NHS staff.”
John Skewes, director for policy, employment relations and communications at the Royal College of Midwives, also tweeted: “After PMQs today real suspicion that government plan to not pay increase to NHS staff, despite PRB award. Real anger from RCM members if so.”
Commenting on the issue further in a press statement, Mr Skewes said: “For years now midwives’ pay has been falling way behind the cost of living.
“Midwives are working harder and harder every year with a rising birth rate and deserve a fair pay rise. We expect the chancellor to honour the NHS pay review body recommendation.”
Meanwhile, Unison head of health Christina McAnea, who is also chair of the union staffside council, tweeted: “Lots of rumours about pay review body but few facts – expecting news tomorrow.
“NHS workforce deserves fair pay. Freeze and cap must end,” she added.
The pay review body, which is independent, makes its recommendation to ministers after weighing up evidence on living standards, inflation and other economic factors.
Health unions, the DH and the NHS Employers organisation submitted their pay requests and supporting evidence to the review body back in the autumn.
Unions called for a minimum 1% pay rise for nurses and a living wage for the lowest paid NHS staff.
But NHS Employers called for a new pay freeze, as occurred in 2011 and 2012, due it said to the “unprecedented” financial challenges faced by the health service.
The DH, meanwhile, said any pay rise for NHS staff should be deferred until unions had agreed to discuss how the Agenda for Change contract could be further watered down.
Such a move would likely mean a pay freeze during the 2014-15 financial year, with no guarantee of a rise in 2015-16.
It is little more than six months since a deal was struck by employers and unions to make some alterations to Agenda for Change, for example the axing of enhanced out-of-hours sick pay.
However, the DH said they should return to the negotiating table and agree more hard-hitting changes that would lead to “more affordable employment contracts” for cash-strapped trusts.
The average nurse has seen earnings increase 6.7% since 2009, but inflation has risen by at least 13% over the same period, resulting a real-terms pay cut.