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Pay freeze sparks fears over nurse staffing levels


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”.

It would also encourage some nurses – especially those with sought-after expertise in cancer, cardiovascular and intensive care – to bolster their incomes with bank and agency work, she said.

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.


Readers' comments (7)

  • I have been a qualified nurse since 2006- the job of nursing sick patients is wonderful but the politics affecting the future of patient care and nursing as a career are very dissapointing. After studying at degree level for 3 years, getting into debt, and now being advised of a pay freeze and spending cuts (which appear to affect frontline staff) I think its time to move to the Private Sector. Thanks NHS

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  • I agree with the above comment. After graduating in 2012, I am very tempted to work for a private hospital. Or if I have to work for the NHS on a lower salary for a period of time, I would no doubt have to bank elsewhere. Are 14hr shifts not good enough?

    I don't see the bankers getting a pay freeze, or the police.

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  • I don't know what the answer to this is as it seems the Conservative party are at the front in the polls which means us nurses suffer again!! I have been qualified 5 years and am still struggling financially even though I have a degree and specialist post graduate qualification....Nurses are an easy target as other public sector workers would strike if they faced a pay freeze but the Government has nurses over a barrell once again. The future of Nursing looks threatened as it is and this pay cut is only going to detriment the profession further-Nurses are quitting in droves now let alone when they have to do the same work in understaffed conditions for a lower pay!!

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  • I think it's terrible the way that nurses are treated in the NHS. Nurses comprise of the majority of health care workers and are the first to suffer poor pay and pay cuts. If it wasn't for front line nurses patient care would suffer, it would take patients longer to get better and it would cost the NHS even more money. I worked in England for the NHS in the past as well as the private sector. I was making about half of what I make now in Canada where the cost of living is much less than in the UK. Nurses in the NHS need to lobby and stand up to the government.

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  • "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."
    - This seems to demonstrate a lack of understanding by the Tories about nursing and AfC - Annual progression in part recognises the expertise nurses can gain through experience, even if still on paper doing the same role. The gateways on KSF if that scheme were properly implemented already allows automatic salary progression to be paused for staff who aren't demonstrating enhanced capability through experience so long as their employer has provided appropriate training opportunities. Why reinvent the wheel, rather than getting it working correctly? Esp after David Cameron's speech at RCN Congress highlighted 'change fatigue' & the years it's taking to properly implement AfC please don't lumber us with the same again.

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  • Its diabolical so experienced nurses will end up earning the same as newly qualified nurses - pay freeze bad enough let alone going to shake up agenda for change

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  • I have been nursing for some years now and have read many logical comments on this new issue of increment freezing in the NHS. I am afraid that whatever anybody says the government and management will do whatever they want for their own benefit!

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