In evidence submitted to the NHS Pay Review Body to counter union attempts to reopen the 7.99% three-year pay deal, the government argues that the total number of qualified nurses, midwives and health visitors in England has increased by 0.6% to 376,737 over the last year.
The Department of Health argues that increased investment since 2000 and the introduction of Agenda for Change pay bands has made the NHS a better place to work.
‘Recruitment is buoyant and, despite significant growth in workforce requirements, vacancies have fallen in recent years to low levels,’ the evidence states.
The evidence also contains a prediction from the Bank of England that inflation is expected to fall significantly on the back of plunging oil prices.
Separate evidence from NHS Employers backed the government’s standpoint.
Gill Bellord, NHS Employers director of pay, pensions and employment relations, said: ‘There is clear evidence that recruitment and retention is stable and that the NHS continues to have a competitive position in the labour market.’
But Josie Irwin, RCN head of employment relations, said: ‘It would be nice to believe that inflation has now peaked, and commentators are saying that it will drop as lower oil prices start to feed through.
‘But, when we signed the multi-year deal, it was assumed that inflation would be falling towards 2% by the end of the year and that did not happen.
‘We don’t see the same stability that the department is seeing in the recruitment situation and we are seeing shortages stacking up.’
Evidence that was submitted earlier this month by unions shows that HCAs and nurses have been hit hardest by the tough economic conditions (see table).
Ms Irwin added: ‘We don’t agree with the claims that they are making.’