Conservative plans to freeze public sector pay would cause future nursing shortages, unions are warning.
All staff earning more than £18,000 a year can expect to receive no headline pay rise in 2011-2012, should the Conservatives win the next election. The plans were unveiled by the Conservative Party last week at its conference in Manchester.
Unions fear that such a pay freeze, which would apply to all nurses and some healthcare assistants after the current three-year pay deal runs out, would encourage staff to leave the NHS or moonlight with staffing agencies.
A spokesman for the Conservative Party told Nursing Times they also wanted the NHS pay review body to look at how salary increases via staff progressing up their pay scales could be restrained, indicating a radical review of Agenda for Change could be on the cards.
Pay awards in the private sector are already expected to average 2.5 to 3 per cent from April, making work outside the NHS more attractive, making other sectors more attractive.
Royal Collegeof Nursing head of employment relations Josie Irwin said: “Nurses are talented, skilled individuals. There are areas like pharmaceutical companies, management and the insurance industry where nurses have highly transferable skills.”
The RCN’s biannual employment survey and labour market review, due to be published next week, is expected to show the first increase in vacancies for the first time in five years.
The figures will also reveal hospital nurses are already feeling disillusioned due to high bed occupancy rates and pressures to use new technology.
Ms Irwin said this meant many may see the pay freeze as a “final straw” and quit. In addition, she said community nurses, many of whom have worked in the NHS for decades, may be tempted to retire early.
This would add to growing pressures caused by stricter immigration rules and a reduction in places on university nursing courses.
Unison head of nursing Gail Adams said the pay freeze amounted to a real terms cut and would have “a significant impact on recruitment”.
This would leave nurses “tired and exhausted” and “have an impact on the care patients receive”.
However, Unite lead officer for nursing Barrie Brown said he doubted staff who had committed themselves to the health service would leave because of pay. But he said the loss of morale “could well impact” on work being led by nurses following the NHS next stage review.