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NHS 1% pay rise cap is 'unsustainable' amid workforce crisis, warn unions


Pay rises for NHS staff that are capped at 1% are “unsustainable” and must instead be increased to above inflation rates to help ease the current nurse recruitment crisis, unions have warned ahead of the annual review of health service staff salaries.

In last summer’s budget announcement, the government announced public sector pay rises would be limited to 1% until 2020. It was later revealed that future pay rises would be “targeted” and there was no guarantee that every employee would receive a 1% wage increase.

“At a time when the gap in earnings between nursing and other professions is growing, the 1% pay cap for NHS staff is unsustainable”

Janet Davies

But unions representing nursing and midwifery staff on the Agenda for Change NHS pay contract have today called for the cap to be broken, highlighting that trusts were struggling to recruit and retain staff amid a national workforce crisis.

An above-inflation pay rise for NHS nurses would help employers to keep hold of the staff needed for safe patient care, they said in their latest annual submissions to the independent NHS pay review body – which makes a recommendation to the government on salary increases.

They described the 1% pay rise cap as “unrealistic” and “unsustainable”, claiming that NHS staff had already seen their pay “eroded” in recent years – by more than 15% in real terms since 2010.

In addition, NHS pay across all UK countries should be brought into line, said the unions, which called for salaries in England, Wales and Northern Ireland to be raised to the same level as in Scotland.

They also warned that the government would need to inject £280m into the NHS by the end of the decade to ensure new minimum wage rules were not breached among lower-paid NHS staff.

“Capping NHS pay at such low levels is giving hospital trusts across the country a huge headache”

Christina McAnea

Christina McAnea, head of health at Unison and current chair of the NHS trade unions, said: “Agenda for Change – the NHS pay framework – has served staff well for many years, but sustained government attacks on health workers’ pay pose a threat to its future.

“Capping NHS pay at such low levels is giving hospital trusts across the country a huge headache as they struggle to hold on to experienced staff, who can earn much more working for agencies,” she said. “Limits on NHS pay are also deterring many people from taking up careers in the health service.”

Janet Davies, chief executive and general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, warned that the “ongoing erosion” of nurses’ real-terms pay was “unsustainable” and claimed that it put “patient care at risk”.

Royal College of Nursing

Pay rise above 1% ‘needed to ease nurse crisis’

Janet Davies

“Nursing staff are struggling to pay the bills [and] forced to work extra shifts to make ends meet,” she said. “They have put up with a declining standard of living for six years because of their commitment to caring for their patients, but they can only be stretched so far and we are now in the grips of a recruitment and retention crisis.

“At a time when the gap in earnings between nursing staff and other graduate professions is growing, the 1% pay cap for NHS staff is unsustainable,” said Ms Davies.

The said the unions’ recommendation to award a pay rise above the cap was “not just about treating staff fairly for the work they are doing”. “It is about getting a grip on workforce planning in the NHS and helping trusts to recruit and retain the staff they need to provide safe patient care,” she said.

“A large cash injection into the NHS would allow the independent pay review body to consider objectively the evidence”

Sarah Carpenter

Meanwhile, Unite’s national officer for health Sarah Carpenter, said: “Since 2010, NHS staff have seen their incomes in real terms eroded by more than 15%, which has provoked a recruitment and retention crisis across the NHS.”

“A large cash injection into the NHS would allow the independent pay review body to consider objectively the evidence and award a decent pay rise to dedicated health professionals,” she said.

“It is clear that the 1% pay cap for NHS staff is completely unrealistic and unsustainable after years of below inflation pay rises and pay freezes,” she added.

Royal College of Midwives

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Jon Skewes

Jon Skewes, director of policy, employment relations and communications at the Royal College of Midwives, said: “We are asking for the NHS pay review body to break the pay cap imposed by government and recommend a fair increase for NHS staff.

“Six years of pay stagnation in the NHS have contributed to the increasing shortages of staff including shortage of nearly 3,500 midwives,” he said. ”Now is the time for the government to end their policy of pay restraint and show that they value NHS staff. Investment in staff is an investment in high quality care.”


Readers' comments (5)

  • urrm, guys? how about addressing the horrific working conditions perhaps?

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  • Classic union style - pay increase. I do not personally think nurses are low paid workers. What does remain, however, is the problem of conditions, rotas vs childcare (wards in particular), poor leadership, extra roles for pay (New Labour). Their usual response to a situation is strike for pay. Strikes do not endear the public to the cause, as most are no longer in unionised work; and striking over pay is one of the least helpful. If strikes were over the problem of drunkenness and violence in A & E, I suspect a different public response to that of demands for pay.

    Do unions agitate for pay increase because they want to put their subs up, I wonder? The standard problems within the workplace still exist - not because there are always certain things that need dealing with in each generation, but rather because they were never properly addressed at all. Recruitment and retention being the obvious one, and is worse in this relatively well-paid environment than at a time of the low-pay and difficult conditions of our nursing veterans. Funding training, and the experience of being trained; and actually managing and leading the distribution of work of worse now than during the days of pittance.

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  • Have you seen the cost of living in London and other major Cities
    are you serious
    Average Rent in London £1,495 !!!!
    and now student nurses to take on £50,000 of debt
    Get real
    Nurses need to get their act together and secure a decent pay rise
    Every time nurses have taken action
    They have had popular support and won an improved offer FACT
    (last time in 2014)

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  • Anyone who doesn't think pay is an issue for all clinical staff in the nhs think OTs, physios, radiographers etc. etc. is living in cloud cookoo. We are all taking pay cut after pay cut each year. I was £30 worse off after last years pay rise 1% rise and 1.5 rise in NI. I don't know anyone who isn't feeling the pinch especially the veterans the above contributor talked about. Pensions cost up NI costs up Car parking costs for staff up and pay in real terms down. Any one who thinks recruitment and retention are not linked to pay lives in a different world to me. In my dept staff are moving to closer hospital to save travel costs and in my trust valuable older staff retire as soon as possible as the differential between pay and pension is eroded. Of course conditions are important but no-one is ever going to stop drunks and violence in A/E and conditions are part of the financial problem they should come with decent pay not instead of it. Also decent conditions and dare I say it job satisfaction [if it now exists] does not pay the bills. All NHS staff need to stand together.

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  • The person who thinks nurses are not bad paid must not be on the AFC pay system that most of us are under. If you compare us to our counterparts in the US, our pay is much lower than theirs and this is after consideration of the cost of living differences.

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