Unions representing nurses and midwives have largely welcomed the chancellor’s commitment to provide extra money for NHS staff pay rises, but also warned they must be “meaningful”.
The Royal College of Nursing, Royal College of Midwives and Unison have all responded to the budget speech made by chancellor Philip Hammond earlier today.
Mr Hammond said he would provide “additional funding” to provide nurses and other Agenda for Change staff with a salary rise, following the completion of the current pay review process.
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He told the Commons that he would fund a pay rise for nurses outside of the normal health service budget if it was recommended next year by the independent NHS pay review body.
But Mr Hammond indicated that this would also be dependent on negotiations between the Department of Health and unions on changes to the current Agenda for Change contract.
It appears to officially signal the end of years of NHS pay being either frozen or salary increases capped at 1%, despite rising inflation.
“The government must allow the NHS pay review body to be genuinely independent”
In response, RCN chief executive and general secretary Janet Davies said: “The chancellor has clearly listened to the tens of thousands of nursing staff who’ve been campaigning for fair pay.”
But she stated that, while “promising” the NHS additional money for nursing pay was “welcome”, Mr Hammond “must make it a meaningful pay rise”.
“The NHS has been running on the goodwill of its staff for too long, and with more talk of reform and productivity, Hammond runs the risk of insulting nurses who regularly stay at work unpaid after 12-hour shifts,” she said. “Their goodwill will not last indefinitely.”
Ms Davies highlighted that nurse pay had fallen further and further below the cost of living for the last seven years, with the RCN calculating the gap to be now worth £3,000 a year.
She added: “In the months to come, the government must allow the NHS pay review body to be genuinely independent of government for the first time in years and give it the freedom to recommend a meaningful pay rise.”
“We also believe the pay structure in the NHS can be improved”
Gill Walton, general secretary and chief executive of the RCM, also noted that there was “pressing need for a pay rise for NHS staff to make up for years of pay freezes and stagnation”.
“The average midwife is £6,000 worse off today than they were because of the effects of seven years of pay restraint in the NHS,” she said.
“The chancellor’s commitment to fund the pay award that the NHS pay review body will recommend for midwives, maternity support workers and other NHS staff is a positive step and shows that he and the government have taken what we are saying on board,” she said.
She highlighted that pay was a significant factor in recruiting and retaining midwives, of which the NHS in England faced a “serious and longstanding midwife shortage”.
“Last year a survey by the RCM found that 80% of midwives who are intending to leave the NHS would stay if they had a pay rise,” she said.
“A fair and decent pay award, fully funded by the government, is the key intervention the government can make to recruit, and retain, enough midwives,” she added.
“The chancellor’s commitment to fund the additional pay bill is welcome”
Referring to Mr Hammond’s comments on contract reform, Ms Walton said: “We also believe the pay structure in the NHS can be improved.”
Unison was less positive about contract negotiations. Its head of health Sara Gorton said: “The government may have shifted its position on NHS pay, but health staff are many months away from any extra money in their pay packets.
“And, although every part of the NHS will be relieved they won’t be expected to fund any pay rise from existing budgets, they’re not out of the woods yet, and there could still be a real sting in the tail,” she said.
“Health unions are willing to explore all options to try to make pay better. But if the health secretary thinks negotiations will be a way of getting staff to pay for their own wage rise by giving up other things that simply won’t wash,” she warned.
sara gorton unison
She added: “Trying to correct the impact of six long years of pay restraint in one single pay round will be a huge challenge without significant investment.”
Danny Mortimer, chief executive of NHS Employers, which represents trusts, said: “We look forward to continuing to work with trade union colleagues and the Department of Health to agree how contract arrangements can be reformed and our employees benefit a welcome lifting of the pay cap.
“There is a great deal to discuss but the chancellor’s commitment to fund the additional pay bill is welcome,” he added.
Richard Murray, director of policy for the King’s Fund think-tank, said: “It is encouraging that the government is prepared to fund pay rises for nurses and other key staff on top of this extra funding, as long as agreement can be reached on new contracts.”
Nuffield Trust chief executive Nigel Edwards added: “Hard pressed NHS organisations will be relieved to see the chancellor’s commitment to funding next year’s pay settlement for nurses, midwives and some other NHS staff. However, there appears to be no commitment to funding pay increases for medical staff.”