Nurses must be given a pay rise at least in line with inflation or the “exodus” of staff from the health service will continue, the Royal College of Nursing has warned the body which reviews NHS pay.
In its submission to the NHS Pay Review Body, which assesses salary increases for nurses and other employees under NHS Agenda for Change contracts, the RCN said seven years of pay restraint had left staff demoralised.
It reiterated its call for salary increases in line with inflation - measured by the retail price index, which is currently around 3.9% - plus an £800 lump sum to make up for lost earnings over the last seven years.
Earlier this year the government announced it was abandoning its plan to continue its 1% cap on pay rises until 2020.
Unions are now in the process of providing evidence to the review body, which will recommend a level of pay rise in the spring to the government.
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The head of the RCN said that while nurses were pleased the cap had been removed, they were now “angry” and “confused” by recent government suggestions that future pay rises must be linked to improvements in productivity.
The union said it would be difficult for staff to work harder and be more productive because many were already staying on after their shift without extra pay, while others were unable to take breaks due to pressures on services.
In its evidence to the review body, the RCN said there were many barriers to improving productivity within the health service.
Nurse shortages, which in England have led to 40,000 vacancies in the NHS according to RCN estimates, are causing many older nurses to retire early, said the union.
“After seven years in which their wages have lagged far behind the cost of living, nursing staff are now looking for a meaningful pay rise at least in line with inflation”
Meanwhile, a lack of clinical opportunities for experienced nurses, which is forcing them into managerial roles, is prompting a number to leave, said the RCN.
The amount and complexity of paperwork done by nurses was also a barrier to working more productively and improving patient care, it added.
Janet Davies, RCN chief executive and general secretary, said: “RCN members led the campaign to scrap the longstanding 1% cap on nursing pay increases, and were pleased when it was abandoned by the government in October.
“The NHS has been running on the goodwill of nursing and other staff for far too long. This goodwill cannot last indefinitely”
“However, after seven years in which their wages have lagged far behind the cost of living, nursing staff are now looking for a meaningful pay rise at least in line with inflation.”
“Instead they have heard equivocal messages from the government about linking any future salary increases to productivity. This has generated anger and confusion among the nursing workforce,” she said.
“The NHS has been running on the goodwill of nursing and other staff for far too long. This goodwill cannot last indefinitely, and we look to the pay review body to make a recommendation which both acknowledges the sacrifices made by NHS staff, and the economic necessity of a meaningful pay rise,” said Ms Davies.