Pay talks have reached a point where the Department of Health and Social Care believes that nurse pay should increase but the Treasury still needs convincing that any rise in wages should be “meaningful”, the head of the Royal College of Nursing has revealed.
RCN chief executive and general secretary Janet Davies said there was now a “bit of dilemma” about how best to negotiate the promised pay increase, which the government has previously said must be tied to staff contract changes under the NHS Agenda for Change pay system.
“The health team really understand the need for a pay rise, the Treasury doesn’t”
As well as nurses, any agreement would have to be applied to all Agenda for Change staff, she noted, which includes almost all NHS workers, apart from doctors, dentists and senior managers.
But the fact that talks are taking place with the Treasury was a “big thing,” said the RCN leader, who was speaking at a nursing conference at the University of Salford last week.
It was “non-negotiable” for unions that NHS employers would have to pay for a wage increase without additional funding, she told the audience.
However, it was still “early days” and a lot of negotiation was still required to get the Treasury to release the money for any “meaningful” pay rise that was significantly higher than 1%, she later told Nursing Times.
“Because we’re in Agenda for Change, [the pay deal is for] everybody. You can’t look at nurses on their own”
“There are talks on a pay rise for next year or the next few years. The health team really understand the need for a pay rise, the Treasury doesn’t,” said Ms Davies at the Future of Nursing conference, refering to previous comments from the government that it would like to agree a multi-year deal.
“And, because we’re in Agenda for Change, it’s everybody. You can’t look at nurses on their own, it’s a part of Agenda for Change,” she said. “There is a good case for nurses, so we’re in a bit of a dilemma at the moment about how we do it.
“This will go on for a while… Talks are happening and actually people are talking to the Treasury, which is the big thing,” she added.
Last month, the Department of Health and Social Care published the evidence it gave to the NHS pay review body for the 2018-19 pay round, reiterating the end of the government’s 1% cap on public sector salary rises.
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It said pay for NHS Agenda for Change staff should “recognise their hard work”, but that the overall package must be “fair and also affordable”. But it did not mention any specific percentage that it wanted for pay rises.
Every year the review body makes a recommendation to ministers about the level of pay rise staff should receive – but in recent years there has been criticism it has not been able to provide an independent view due to government policy on pay.
It follows a run of seven years where it has been either side-lined by the government or simply rubber-stamping a series of pay freezes and then the 1% cap in increases.
However, the end of the 1% cap on salary rises was finally signaled by health ministers last year and then confirmed by the chancellor in his autumn budget speech.
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The RCN and 13 other health unions negotiating on behalf of staff are now calling for a 3.9% pay rise this year, in line with inflation, plus an £800 lump sum.
They claim this would help to make up for lost wages due to the government’s policy of pay restraint since 2010.
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A spokeswoman for both the DHSC and Treasury said: “The government has been clear that it will fund a multi-year pay deal for staff employed under the national Agenda for Change contract — including nurses and midwives - if talks on contract reform are successful.
“Discussions between NHS Employers and unions to agree this new pay deal are progressing in a positive manner,” she said.