NHS nurses and other health and social care staff in Northern Ireland are to finally receive the 1% pay rise due them for 2017-18, it has been announced.
The imminent delivery of the salary rise, which was delayed by the ongoing political turbulence in Northern Ireland, comes after civil servants determined public sector pay policy for 2017-18 in the absence of elected ministers, who would normally decide policy on pay.
“This is the most appropriate way to resolve this pressing situation and is in the public interest”
But the Royal College of Nursing said the announcement was ”effectively a full year too late” and called on Northern Ireland’s Department of Health to apologise to nurses.
The new policy, set today, along with an allocation of £26m on 29 November, allows the health department to implement the controversial 1% pay award for health and social care staff – in line with the UK government’s former policy on long-term NHS pay restraint.
The country’s Department of Finance confirmed in a statement that the 2016-17 public sector pay policy, which was set by the previous finance minister, would continue to apply in 2017-18.
Hugh Widdis, the finance department’s permanent secretary, said: “This, in keeping with the overarching HM Treasury policy on UK public sector pay this year, will limit pay increases to 1%.
“Setting pay policy would normally be the responsibility of the finance minister,” he said. “However, I am very much aware of the pressures on hard working public sector staff and the potential impact on recruitment, retention and morale caused by the current unprecedented situation.
“Therefore, having considered all of these factors, I believe this is the most appropriate way to resolve this pressing situation and is in the public interest,” he added.
“I fully understand the frustrations and uncertainty about pay caused by the absence, until today, of a pay policy”
The country’s Department of Health said the move “clears the way” for the implementation of a 2017-18 pay award for over 55,000 health and social care workers in Northern Ireland.
The 1% uplift was recommended earlier this year by the independent NHS pay review body and the review body on doctors’ and dentists’ remuneration, it said in a separate statement released earlier today.
It highlighted that “implementation was delayed” by the previous absence of a Northern Ireland public sector pay policy for 2017-18.
“The necessary arrangements to make the backdated pay award will be put in place as soon as possible, with full implementation expected before the end of the financial year,” said the DH statement.
It added that the Health and Social Care Business Services Organisation would implement the award – the uplift and arrears – during the first quarter of 2018.
It noted that the pay award applied to Agenda for Change staff, hospital medical and dental staff, doctors and dentists in public health and the community health service, and salaried personal dental service.
Senior civil servant Richard Pengelly, the health department’s permanent secretary, said: “Our workers are our most valuable asset and they deserve to receive the hard-earned pay which is owed to them.
“I fully understand the frustrations and uncertainty about pay caused by the absence, until today, of a pay policy,” he added.
As previously reported, the UK government recently announced an end to its unpopular policy on pay restraint. The health secretary has now written to the chair of the NHS pay review body triggering the start of talks on wage increases for nurses and other NHS staff, alongside potential contract changes.
- NHS pay negotiations for 2018 underway alongside talks on contract changes
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- Hunt hints that pay rise will be linked to staff contract changes
Responding to the announcement, RCN Northern Ireland director Janice Smyth said: “Given the circumstances, nurses and other health staff are owed an apology by the Department of Health for the ways in which this pay award has been handled and the unnecessary waiting, uncertainty and financial detriment to which they have been subjected.
“The award was originally announced in March 2017 and implemented in the rest of the UK from April 2017,” she said. “Throughout our representations to the Department of Health since March 2017, we have consistently been told that it was not possible to implement the award in Northern Ireland in the absence of a health minister because it required ministerial authorisation.
“We are now told by the Department of Health that the refusal to implement the award is attributable to ’the absence of a Northern Ireland public sector pay policy for 2017-2018’ and not, in fact, because of the absence of a health minister,” noted Ms Smyth.
”Equally, the department has apparently now undertaken to make “the necessary arrangements to make the backdated award … as soon as possible, with full implementation expected before the end of the financial year,” she added.