Nurses are to begin protest activities over pay from next week after the Queen’s Speech failed to state the government would remove its 1% cap on annual wage increases for most NHS staff.
The Royal College of Nursing, which is behind the planned summer protests, said today’s speech – which outlines the new government’s priorities – should have seen the 1% cap on salary increases for Agenda for Change staff scrapped.
“The RCN will launch a summer-long protest, calling on the government to scrap the 1% pay cap”
It claimed that years of pay restraint meant nurses were now at least £3,000 a year worse off than in 2010, due to salary increases having been kept below inflation.
The union reiterated its estimation that 40,000 nurse jobs were now vacant in England and warned that the cap “does nothing to help” fill those roles. It urged prime minister Theresa May to lift the cap before the end of the summer.
“Theresa May had an opportunity to show that she had listened to public concern over the future of the NHS. By scarcely mentioning its patients and workforce today, the government made clear that nothing will change,” said RCN chief executive and general secretary Janet Davies.
“Hospitals and community services are already short of the nursing staff needed to provide safe care. They are being driven out by poor pay and the unprecedented strain. Health and care services must fast become a priority for this government,” she added.
“Health and care services must fast become a priority for this government”
“Next week, the Royal College of Nursing will launch a summer-long protest, calling on the government to scrap the 1% pay cap. Patients, as well as nurses’ families, pay a heavy price. Theresa May must scrap it before the summer is out,” she said.
Responding in a statement, a Department of Health spokeswoman said: “As the secretary of state has made clear, the support and welfare of NHS staff is a top priority as they do a fantastic job - the government is committed to ensuring they can continue to deliver world-class patient care.”
At the RCN’s annual congress in May, before the general election, nurses agreed to carry out protest activities over the summer if the new government failed to put a stop to pay restraint in the NHS.
It followed a poll among RCN members that revealed 91% of the 52,000 NHS nurses who took part would be in favour of industrial action if a ballot went ahead.
However, if the same number of nurses took part in an official ballot, it would not fulfil the new Trade Unions Act requirement of a 50% turnout in order for strike action to be allowed.
- RCN promise ‘summer of protests’ over 1% cap on NHS nurse pay rises
- RCN strike poll falls short of number needed to force formal ballot
- RCN starts consultation exercise on possible strike vote
NHS pay was increased at below-inflation rates in 2010, was frozen from 2011 to 2013 and since 2014 has been limited to 1% for staff under the Agenda for Change system.
Other unions, including Unison and the Royal College of Midwives, took strike action in 2014 over pay, when the government sought to ignore the accepted pay review body process. However, the RCN’s leaders opted not to take part and did not formally consult college members.
Status of EU NHS staff needs protection post-Brexit
In 2015 the government announced public sector pay would be capped at 1% on an annual basis for a further four years.
But last week, unexpectedly, health secretary Jeremy Hunt hinted at some movement on the government’s pay restraint policy.
He told NHS bosses he planned relay concerns about staff pay to the chancellor, following a meeting with the head the RCN – which is yet to take place.
- Jeremy Hunt hints at end to pay restraint for NHS nurses
- Is Jeremy on the hunt for more cash for nurses?
There has been a growing chorus of concerns from a number of organisations – including those representing employers and the body that reviews annual NHS pay rises – that the cap is not sustainable.
This has included a recent call by the Sir Mike Richards, chief inspector of hospitals at the Care Quality Commission, for NHS staff “to be properly rewarded”.