Treasury threat of further NHS pay restraint draws angry response
A nurse turned political activist has also strongly criticised the government’s indication that it will dispense with the NHS pay review body’s advice next year and impose similar pay arrangements as this year.
Meanwhile, the government’s hard line on pay is having a “very real and serious effect” on nurse morale and recruitment and retention, the Royal College of Nursing has warned.
As reported last week by Nursing Times, chief secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander has said he expects the government to take the “same approach” to deciding pay increases for NHS staff in 2015-16 as it did this year.
“Nurses have not had a cost of living increase for five years”
As a result, Mr Alexander has also told the NHS Pay Review Body it will not be asked to make recommendations on a pay award for Agenda for Change staff in the 2015 pay round.
This year has seen the government reject the review body’s recommendations and instead offer a 1% basic pay rise to only those staff in England not eligible for an incremental pay rise – sparking many unions to hold ballots for industrial action later this month and over the autumn.
In an open letter to Nursing Times, Kathryn Anderson, a nurse and spokeswoman for the National Health Action Party, claimed the government’s “audacity” on the issue of pay “knows no bounds”.
Through their hard line on pay, Ms Anderson warned ministers they risked destroying “any final shred of respect that any nurse or NHS worker might ever have had for their government”.
Ms Anderson quoted research from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation showing the cost of essentials had risen by 28% since 2008 and RCN claims that nurse pay had lagged up to 8% behind inflation since 2010.
“The government are holding public sector workers to ransom – there is nowhere else to go, no other public sector job will pay you a higher salary, so you best stay put,” she said.
She called on Mr Alexander to “explain” why many NHS staff were facing a further pay freeze next year in the face of large salary increases for some health service managers.
In addition, RCN chief secretary and general secretary Peter Carter has written to Mr Alexander noting that “most nurses will once again not be receiving a cost of living increase next year”.
In the letter (see PDF top-right), he claimed nurses had not received a cost of living increase for five years, while caring for record numbers of patients.
Mr Carter said the government’s decisions on pay were “having a very real and serious effect on nurse morale and recruitment and retention”.
“The RCN has repeatedly warned of the damage to morale and motivation of nurses unless steps were taken to make up some of the ground lost over the last few years,” said Mr Carter. “These warnings are sadly now a reality on the ground.”
He also said the government was “seriously compromising the integrity” of the pay review body, which he added was “a worrying precedent to set”.
Four unions − Unison, Unite, the Royal College of Midwives and the GMB − have announced dates for ballots on industrial action, potentially including strikes.
However, RCN leaders have indicated they do not favour strikes and so far have no plans to ballot for action. Earlier this week, the college published an update on its decision in response to questions about its approach from members.