Financial difficulties facing NHS nurses have been “ignored” by the government, which has provided a “completely inadequate” response to a petition calling for the end of pay restraint, according to the Royal College of Nursing.
The petition noted NHS nursing, midwifery and healthcare assistant staff had seen their wages held back since 2010, which it said amounted to a 14% drop in earnings when taking inflation into account.
It said the impact has been “harsh” and that staff on the NHS’s Agenda for Change pay system were struggling with financial hardship across England.
”[This petition response] ignores the financial hardship facing thousands of nursing staff this winter; a consequence of the 1% cap on their pay”
This comes at the same time the government has introduced an average 1% pay rise cap for all public sector workers in England until 2020.
The petition, which was started by nurse Danielle Tiplady – one of the leaders of the campaign against the axing of student bursaries – also noted the NHS staffing “crisis”, pointing to the 10,000 vacancies for nursing jobs in London alone last year.
In addition, staff were planning on leaving the capital due to problems with paying rent, said the petition, also noting recent reports of increasing numbers of healthcare workers using food banks.
The petition has attracted almost 60,000 signatures and at the end of last week received a response from the government.
In its response, the Department of Health said it was “committed to ensuring trusts can afford to employ the staff the NHS needs”.
“The government is committed to ensuring trusts can afford to employ the staff the NHS needs”
Department of Health
It said there was a trade-off between pay and the number of jobs in public services and that its “difficult” decision to bring in the 1% pay rise cap was estimated to protect 200,000 public sectors jobs, according to the Office for Budget Responsibility.
It said that overall, wages for nurses and other non-medical staff had increased year-on-year since 2010, by around 0.8%, and that inflation had been at “historic low levels” - currently 0.6%.
For NHS nursing and midwifery employees, average total earnings increased by 2.2% a year between 2010 and 2015, it said, while noting the current average wage for a qualified nurse was £31,214 – which it said was “well above” the national average salary of £27,500.
In its response, the DH also pointed to the extra salary weightings, through high cost area supplements, paid to NHS AfC employees working in London.
It also said the NHS was “one of few public sector workforces that receive incremental pay” – which it claimed provided an average annual 3% increase in earnings for nursing staff – and noted the NHS’s “valued” pension scheme.
”Pay restraint is a political decision and it is not the responsibility of hardworking nursing staff to pay for financial failings in the NHS”
Meanwhile the DH said the NHS now employed 3,500 more nurses and midwives since May 2010, and that a further 51,000 were currently being trained.
The changes to student nurse funding – which will see bursaries removed from autumn 2017 – will allow universities to “significantly expand” training places by 2020, it added.
It also referred to other initiatives aimed at helping to tackle staffing problems, including the national return to practice scheme being run by Health Education England which has seen 700 nurses come back to the NHS.
However, the RCN said the government’s response to the petition was “completely inadequate”.
“It ignores the financial hardship facing thousands of nursing staff this winter; a consequence of the 1% cap on their pay.
“Let’s be clear, pay restraint is a political decision and it is not the responsibility of hardworking nursing staff to pay for financial failings in the NHS,” said the RCN.