Giving NHS staff a bigger pay rise would damage patient care, according to health secretary Jeremy Hunt who claimed the cash was needed for frontline nurses.
He told the House of Commons on Tuesday this week that a pay deal, which would see staff get “at least a 1% pay rise”, was “the right thing to do”.
“I think the most damaging thing for patient care would be to award a pay award that would mean we potentially lost 6,000 nursing jobs on our frontline,” he said.
“The most damaging thing for patient care would be to award a pay award that would mean we potentially lost 6,000 nursing jobs”
“That would be incredibly bad for patients and incredibly bad for nurses as well. All nurses are getting a minimum 1% rise. That is the right thing to do.”
At the end of last month, Mr Hunt signalled he was willing to negotiate over the controversial pay settlement after the government rejected a 1% cost of living rise for all staff with a freeze on incremental pay increases.
One of Mr Hunt’s health ministers, Dan Poulter, then told MPs it was “unacceptable” for staff to get what he described as “two pay rises”.
“On NHS pay what we believe in is we need to have enough frontline staff to care for patients. That’s the lesson of Mid Staffs,” said Dr Poulter, who has particular responsibility for nursing policy.
“What the previous government would have done and what the opposition would have us do is to give some staff in the NHS two pay rises not just one. That’s unacceptable when we need to have enough staff to make sure that we can look after patients.”
The health secretary was quizzed on other nursing issues including hourly ward rounds and a drop in the number of senior nurses.
Liberal Democrat MP Andrew George accused him of imposing new “tick-box” targets for nurses with the introduction of hourly rounding.
Mr Hunt said there was no target to bring in hourly rounding across the board, but highlighted evidence from hospitals such as Salford Royal that it boosted patient care.
“It results in the buzzer going off less often, calmer wards and problems being nipped in the bud,” he said. “People are given food and water before they feel the need to ask for it and we end up with better and safer care.”
Tom Blenkinsop, Labour MP for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland, flagged up a worrying drop in the number of band 8 nurses in the north east. He said numbers had fallen by 87 since the general election.
“The number of nurses overall is up 1,600 since the general election,” said Mr Hunt. “Let me be absolutely clear that I do not believe in a system where the secretary of state is micro-managing precisely how many nurses there are in every ward in every hospital in the country.”
“It is an insult to hard working nurses to imply that the small, below-inflation pay uplift would be damaging to patients”
Responding to Mr Hunt’s comments on pay, Royal College of Nursing chief executive and general secretary Peter Carter said: “It is an insult to hard working nurses to imply that the small, below-inflation pay uplift which was recommended by the independent pay review body, would be damaging to patients.
“The NHS has wasted billions on a chaotic reorganisation, has thrown redundancy payments to senior managers who return a few months later, and handed a £3bn underspend back to the Treasury.”
He added: “To waste this money and then claim that a fair wage for nurses would have to come at the cost of safe staffing levels is utterly disingenuous and insulting to hard working frontline staff.”