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Union survey shows ‘strong public support’ for NHS pay rise

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There is “overwhelming” public support for removing the government’s cap on NHS pay rises, according to unions following a survey of the public.

The survey of over 2,000 people found that 84% of respondents supported removal of the 1% cap on pay rises for NHS staff.

“Ministers should listen to what the public are telling them”

Chris Cox

As well as supporting scrapping the cap, 83% said they supported increasing pay for all NHS staff to meet or exceed the cost of living – based on the Retail Price Index (RPI) measure of inflation.

The RPI measure of inflation recently reached 3.9%, leading unions to benchmark their calls for a pay award for NHS staff in line with it. In addition, NHS unions are also calling for an additional £800 to restore some of the pay lost by NHS staff over the past seven years.

According to the survey, 69% of the public supported NHS staff being paid an extra £800 on top of a pay increase that is in line with RPI inflation.

Meanwhile, 73% of respondents backed making more funding available so the NHS pay review body, which assesses salaries and recommends wage rises, could recommend an award higher than 1%, if the government lifts the pay cap.

The survey also found that 77% of respondents thought low pay was one of the reasons for many staff leaving the NHS and 74% that it was a factor in young people not choosing careers in the NHS.

The ComRes survey was commissioned by the Royal College of Midwives and funded by 14 NHS unions in total. ComRes surveyed 2,032 adults online between 15 and 17 September 2017.

Royal College of Midwives

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Jon Skewes

Jon Skewes, RCM director for employment relations and communications, said: “This clearly shows how much the public value our hardworking midwives and other NHS staff.  

“What the government need to understand is that investment in NHS staff is an investment in the service the NHS gives,” he said. “We need a change in policy to give NHS staff fair pay and it must be funded by government.”

Unison head of health Sara Gorton said: “This poll shows that the government needs to stop the excuses and start listening to public opinion. Just talking about selectively lifting the pay cap isn’t good enough.

“Hard-pressed NHS staff from all disciplines goes above and beyond every day to keep services running – it’s time for the government to show it values them enough to invest in them,” she said.

Chris Cox, the Royal College of Nursing’s director of member relations, said: “Ministers should listen to what the public are telling them, scrap the pay cap and help to recruit thousands more nurses for a safer NHS.


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Sara Gorton

“Experienced nursing staff are leaving in droves – not because they don’t like the job, but because they can’t afford to stay, while the next generation do not see their future in an under-valued profession,” he added.

Earlier this month, the 14 unions wrote directly to the government appealing for staff to receive a 3.9% pay rise, in line with inflation, plus the £800 lump sum.

Following the government’s removal of the cap for police and prison officers, it was thought the Treasury would outline plans to the NHS review body about ending the cap for staff later this month.

But it is understood that this year’s pay review process has been delayed and that the NHS pay review body has not yet received any direction from the government.

In the past, the government would ask the body by the end of the summer to begin its work. It would then collect evidence from the government, unions and employers over the autumn and a decision would be made by the government in the spring.

The letter from unions followed a frenetic period of activity on the issue, with public sector pay in the political and media spotlight.

On 12 September, the government announced that chancellor Philip Hammond would give his autumn budget speech on 22 November.

The following day, MPs unanimously passed a motion in favour of a fair pay rise for NHS staff, though the government stopped short of announcing a formal end to the pay cap.

Survey Questions

  1. Pay rises for public sector workers are reviewed by independent pay review bodies. Between 2010 and 2013, the government froze pay since when it has been capped at 1%. The government says this has been done to maintain spending in other areas. The government have announced they intend to lift the public sector pay cap for the police and prison officers. To what extent would you support or oppose the removal of this cap for NHS staff e.g. nurses, midwives, paramedics?
  2. If the government makes an announcement that they will lift the policy of the pay cap in the NHS, do you think the government should also increase the funding available for the NHS pay review body to recommend an award higher than 1%?
  3. If the pay cap was removed, to what extent would you support or oppose a pay increase for all NHS staff in line with or above the cost of living (RPI inflation)?
  4. Which of the following do you think are or are not a significant consequence of low pay in the NHS?
  5. To what extent do you support or oppose NHS staff being paid an increase to their pay that is in line with the cost of living (RPI inflation) plus a flat rate of £800 to take account of the loss of value of pay caused by seven years of pay restraint?



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