The goodwill of nurses and other public sector workers who have been asked to “do more for less” could soon run out, MPs warned yesterday in a debate ahead of a vote on whether to lift the public sector pay cap.
MPs from a range of parties spoke out about the increasing pressure of staff working in the NHS, while also paying tribute to the recent responses by emergency services to terror attacks and the Grenfell Tower fire in London.
“My mother was a nurse and I think that the dedication and commitment of our public service workers is above price”
Health secretary Jeremy Hunt later responded by adding his praise for the emergency services following recent events.
He went on to say the government would not make its decision on pay until a recommendation had been made by the NHS pay review body, which assesses salaries every year.
Following the six-hour debate, the vote resulted in MPs rejecting the call for an end to 1% annual pay rises, with 323 votes to 309.
The vote was put forward by Labour as an amendment to the Queen’s Speech, which the debate centred on in the House of Commons yesterday.
During the debate the Scottish National Party had said it would support the move and some Conservative MPs were also among those saying it was “time to think again” about the pay cap.
Introducing the amendment, shadow home secretary Diane Abbott highlighted the role of public sector workers in responding to recent terrorist attacks in London and Manchester and the Grenfell Tower fire – including the many NHS workers “who came in off shift to save lives”.
“My mother was a nurse and I think that the dedication and commitment of our public service workers is above price,” she told MPs.
“The government’s choice to provide less funding than the health service needs is compromising safe staffing levels”
Dr Paul Williams
However, she said all public sector workers had been hit by pay freezes and pay caps leaving them worse off.
The fact they were being “asked to do more for less” was “unfair, unworkable and counter-productive” and had led to “low morale and problems with recruitment and retention”, she added.
Fellow Labour MPs were quick to criticise lack of funding for the NHS and social care in the wider debate on these parts of the Queen’s speech.
Dr Paul Williams, Labour MP for Stockton South, said “hard-working nurses facing 10 years of pay caps wanted fairness” and were among those who had been “let down”.
He said the Queen’s speech, which outlines the new government’s priorities, had also failed to address the issue of long-term funding that had led to a “crisis” in social care that was currently “overwhelming the care sector and the NHS”.
“Our hospitals and surgeries are full, social care is on its knees and staff are working under impossible conditions in a system struggling to cope,” he said.
“The government’s choice to provide less funding than the health service needs is compromising safe staffing levels. They talk about providing extra funding but this is set against the backdrop of enforced savings in the NHS, which are far in excess of the extra money they keep telling us the NHS is going to get,” he said.
”There is no doubt in my mind that seven years of this cap are now having a significant impact on morale within the health service”
Dr Sarah Wollaston
Derek Twigg, Labour MP for Halton, said the Queen’s speech “really set out no strategy, no answers and did nothing to solve the problem of the crisis in the health service both in terms of staffing and funding”.
He said recent increases in the number of patients left waiting on hospital trolleys “was an absolute disgrace” and highlighted the “a real problem” of delayed transfers.
“We know the stress and worry the staff are under because they haven’t got those resources they need,” he added.
Home secretary Amber Rudd defended the government saying it had a “proud record on the NHS” with “NHS spending protected, more doctors, more nurses, more midwives and more GPs”.
She agreed the response from the emergency services to recent events had been “truly heroic”.
“As the government continues to strengthen the economy we can continue to invest in the NHS, supporting that public service on which we all depend,” she continued.
“As we have set out in our manifesto, we will increase health spending by a minimum of £8bn a year in real terms by the end of parliament,” she said.
”It is absolutely right that we should now be looking at removing that cap on pay for public sector workers”
She also said the government was keen to consult on sustainable solutions for funding social care.
However, fellow Conservative MPs went on to raise concerns about the ongoing pay cap and impact on hard-pressed NHS staff.
Dr Sarah Wollaston, Conservative MP for Totnes, said it was “time for us to think again about the impact of the public sector pay cap”.
“Because there is no doubt in my mind that seven years of this cap are now having a significant impact on morale within the health service and across our wider public sector,” she added.
She said the message from the public was very clear – that they valued public services and wanted to see pay issues addressed.
“I think one of the ways we will address the recruitment, retention and morale is by delivering them a fair pay settlement,” she added.
She said she wanted to see “realistic cross-party working” to find solutions for funding health and social care.
Dr Andrew Murrison, Conservative MP for South West Wiltshire, warned NHS and care staff were at breaking point.
”We will not make our decision on public sector pay until the pay review body has reported…We will listen to what it says”
“We are risking that well of goodwill not just getting low but running completely dry,” he told the Commons.
“It is absolutely right that we should now be looking at removing that cap on pay for public sector workers and in particular we think about those working in our health services,” he said.
“When we have to support our families, pay the mortgage and deal with everything that bears down on people in their working lives, it is pretty rotten to see salaries increasing, rightly, in the general economy but not in the public service,” he added.
Health secretary Jeremy Hunt responded at the end of the debate by saying that it had been financially a “very difficult period” recently and that if pay had not been held down there would not have been increases in the number of nurses.
“What I can say is that we will not make our decision on public sector pay until the pay review body has reported.
“We will listen to what it says, and to what people in this house have said, before making a final decision,” he added.