Chancellor George Osborne has announced spending plans that will force nurses and other public sector staff to pay £1.8bn a year more towards their pensions and retire later.
Although Mr Osborne said he was “protecting” the NHS by giving it a very small increase in funds in real terms, changes to pension rules apply to all public sector workers.
Those changes will involve making annual savings to the public sector pension scheme of £1.8bn over and above other planned cuts that will also be made by 2014-15.
The spending review states this will be made through “progressive changes to the level of employee contributions” equivalent to a 3 per cent rise, being phased in from April 2012.
The contribution increase would lead to a nurse at the midpoint of band 5 on the Agenda for Changepay scale, earning £24,554, having to pay an extra £737 a year towards their pension. The highest paid nurse consultant or modern matron would pay an extra £2,014.
Lord John Hutton is carrying out a review of public sector pensions for the government. His interim report earlier this month called for an end to final salary pensions, suggesting that schemes based on employees’ average career earnings would be fairer to the lower paid.
The changes come as 490,000 public sector job losses are forecast by the Office for Budget Responsibility by 2014-15, while two million new jobs are forecast in the private sector by 2015-16.
News of those job losses leaked out on the same day public sector workers took part in a rally in central London, organised by the Trades Union Congress, to protest against cuts to the public sector.
Nursing Times interviewed nurses taking part in the protest.
Jill Hancock, a community mental health nurse and member of Unison, said: “I’m here to protest against these cuts on the NHS. It’s certainly not protected - we’re already encountering reconfiguration and there are going to be job losses. Where’s the protection in that?”
Simon Ward, a mental health nurse and palliative care project manager in Camden, said the cuts would “hit the most vulnerable [but] there are alternatives. The government is blaming those who are least able to do anything about it”.
“The white paper is actually a fundamental attack on the NHS. It’s giving control over our services to the private sector. It’s not just about nurses. It’s about the amount of commissioning of services that’s going to be given away to private companies.”
Mr Osborne said the predicted headcount reduction was “unavoidable when the country has run out of money” and would be partly achieved by deleting unfilled posts.