Frontline nursing staff today handed a petition of 67,000 names to Downing Street, urging the government to scrap the cap on public sector pay.
It comes as unions, including the RCN, seek to keep up the pressure on ministers over public sector pay ahead of the autumn budget on 22 November.
“The next pay award to nursing staff must be above inflation”
A pay rally was held earlier this week in Westminster, where other unions warned that nurses and midwives would still be worse off in future without a pay rise that kept pace with inflation.
Both events come after health secretary Jeremy Hunt revealing in the Commons on 10 October that the 1% cap on pay rises had been “scrapped”, following small rises for police and prison officers.
He did not confirm any further details at that stage but hinted that future pay rises would need to be linked to improvements in productivity. NHS leaders later warned that extra funding was needed.
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Pressure has been mounting on ministers to end their pay restraint policy, with warnings growing from senior officials and influential think-tanks that it was hindering recruitment and retention.
The petition was delivered by members of the Royal College of Nursing representing the four countries of the UK and the capital.
The five “pay champions” spent the summer promoting the college’s “scrap the cap” campaign, distributing campaign materials and organising events at hospitals and in public spaces.
Michael Coram represented London, Kayleigh Peel represented the West Midlands, Jane Leighton was the champion for Northern Ireland, Julie Lamberth for Scotland and Jean Richards for Wales.
The petition’s signatures were collected on 67,000 postcards, which were completed at events held in towns and cities during what the RCN dubbed its “summer of protest”. It culminated in a large protest march in London on 6 September.
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The petition handed in at Number 10 was accompanied by a letter (see below) from Michael Brown, chair of RCN council.
According to the college, the 1% pay rise cap has caused nursing pay to fall by 14% in real-terms since 2010, leaving them £3,000 a year worse off.
It also highlighted that low pay has potentially stood in the way of attracting enough staff to provide safe patient care.
With 40,000 nursing vacancies in England and more nurses now leaving than joining the register, it is vital ministers end the cap to prevent the workforce from shrinking even further, said the RCN.
“This petition shows huge levels of public support for nurses”
In his letter, Mr Brown said: “On 10 October 2017, the Secretary of State for Health Rt. Hon. Jeremy Hunt MP said the pay cap for NHS staff is scrapped.
“This is a positive first step, but the next pay award to nursing staff must be above inflation and the NHS cannot be expected to fund it from existing budgets,” he said.
“The time has come to stop relying on the goodwill of staff to keep the NHS afloat,” he said. “The pay gap must be closed.”
Janet Davies, RCN chief executive and general secretary, added: “This petition shows huge levels of public support for nurses, who work so hard to provide care for patients in the midst of a staffing crisis and increasing pressures in the NHS.
“Their next pay offer must not come in below inflation and ministers must not ask the NHS to make other cuts to pay for it,” she said.
Nurses deliver ‘scrap the cap’ pay petition to Downing Street
Letter from Michael Brown, Chair of RCN Council
Dear Prime Minister,
This petition carries the names of more than 67,000 people – including nursing staff and patients – who oppose your Government’s policy on nursing pay.
Each person on this list has completed a postcard which our members are delivering to their MPs to send the message that nursing staff can no longer endure pay restraint.
RCN Congress 2017
Since 2010, our members have experienced a real-terms pay cut of 14%. This has forced experienced staff out of the profession, those who stay are at breaking point and it is a struggle to recruit new nurses.
There are severe staff shortages across the UK, undermining staff morale and compromising patient safety.
On 10 October 2017, the Secretary of State for Health Rt. Hon. Jeremy Hunt MP said the pay cap for NHS staff is scrapped. This is a positive first step, but the next pay award to nursing staff must be above inflation and the NHS cannot be expected to fund it from existing budgets.
The time has come to stop relying on the goodwill of staff to keep the NHS afloat. The pay gap must be closed.
Please act swiftly to help bring talented nursing staff into the NHS and show those who already work in it that what they do is truly valued by you and your Government.
I look forward to receiving your response.
Chair, RCN Council