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”
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, 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”.
Pay rise above 1% ‘needed to ease nurse crisis’
“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”
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.
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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.”