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Nurse pay should be set locally

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National pay scales for nurses cost lives in prosperous areas and should be set locally, claim economic researchers.

A report, published by the Centre for Economic Performance, said national pay scales failed to attract nurses to richer parts of the country.

Agenda for Change includes a London weighting allowance and recruitment and retention premia in certain areas. But the new report claims this does not compensate for regional labour market differences.

Researchers compared changes in wage rates with performance, including mortality rates, in 175 hospitals in England between 1995 and 2002.

They claimed deaths within 30 days of MI were 4–8% higher in areas where there is a 10% gap between the wages of nurses and women working locally in other jobs.

They suggested hospitals in these areas relied on agency staff and quality of care suffered as a consequence, and that hospitals in more prosperous areas also had lower productivity.

‘Rather than focusing on across-the-board increases in national pay, which we found not to be cost effective, relaxing the regulatory system to allow local wages to reflect local market realities would improve productivity and save lives in the higher outside wage areas,’ the report concluded.

But RCN head of policy Howard Catton was critical of the findings. ‘I am very concerned about this report. It is using limited, false analysis and recommendations to push an agenda to reduce the public sector wage bill,’ he said.

‘In terms of staffing levels and patient outcomes there is a relationship that is established and is significant,’ he added.

Michael Walker, Unison’s London regional officer, said: ‘The only area I would agree with in this report is the over-reliance of London hospitals on agency staff, which has been to the detriment of patient care.’

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