The health secretary has revealed to NHS bosses that he is planning to relay concerns about staff pay to the chancellor, following a meeting with the head the Royal College of Nursing.
At a conference in Liverpool today, NHS Confederation chief executive Niall Dickson asked Jeremy Hunt whether the clampdown on pay would end, noting it was affecting morale among staff.
“I have a great deal of sympathy for the case that nurses have made on the issue of pay”
In response, Mr Hunt said he had “a great deal of sympathy” for the arguments nurses had made about an end to pay restraint and noted the “enormous amount of goodwill” among staff who worked extra hours for no extra money.
He told healthcare managers at the confederation’s annual conference that he was due to meet with RCN chief executive and general secretary Janet Davies, after having received a “constructive letter” from her following his recent reappointment.
While highlighting that the NHS had to work within its budget, Mr Hunt noted that decisions on pay were made by the chancellor and that he would be sure to relay the union leader’s concerns to him ahead of that decision.
jeremy hunt confed 1
Source: Neil O’Connor
“I’ve said many times, I have a great deal of sympathy for the case that nurses amongst others have made on the issue of pay,” Mr Hunt told delegates.
“I think they do an absolutely brilliant job, they work very hard and need to factor in that there is an enormous amount of good will and time given free of charge because people care about their jobs – and see it not as a job but as a vocation,” he said.
“We have our budget that we have to live within, but public sector pay is a matter for the chancellor, because it is policy that is set across the whole of government,” he said.
“But I have had a very constructive letter from Janet Davies, head of the RCN, since I came back into office and will be meeting with her. And I will make sure our conversation is reflected back to the chancellor before he makes that decision,” added Mr Hunt.
“I will make sure our conversation is reflected back to the chancellor”
In 2015, the government announced a 1% cap on salary rises for public sector workers until 2020, following years of pay restraint in the NHS.
There have been growing concerns from a number of organisations – including those representing employers and the body that reviews annual NHS pay rises – that the cap is not sustainable.
At the RCN’s annual congress last month, nurses voted to carry out protests over the summer if the new government failed to end its policy on pay restraint.
Earlier this week, the Care Quality Commission’s chief inspector of hospitals, Sir Mike Richards, said in an interview that NHS staff “need to be properly rewarded”.
His comments were echoed in a speech on Wednesday by influential former head of the Commons’ health select committee and past health secretary Stephen Dorrell, now chair of the NHS Confederation.
He said: “We need to ensure that our staff are fairly rewarded for the commitment they make. We all know that financial resources are stretched, but we cannot expect to benefit from the continued commitment of our staff if they feel that public sector pay policy offers them no reasonable prospect of meeting their private needs and aspirations.”
Responding to Mr Hunt’s comments, Mr Dickson described the health secretary’s comments on pay as “encouraging”.
“We welcome his suggestion that this is something he will be discussing with the chancellor – particularly the possibility of improvements for nurses,” added Mr Dickson, a former editor of Nursing Times.