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Nurses will quit without 'competitive' pay, concedes Simon Stevens


Nurses and other healthcare workers will leave the profession if the health service fails to provide them with competitive pay rates in future, the head of the NHS in England has acknowledged.

Recent pay freezes “will not be indefinitely repeatable” in the future, said NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens in an interview on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

“Ultimately if the NHS is not paying competitive rates then that shows up as nurses walking”

Simon Stevens

Mr Stevens today launched his five-year plan for the health service, which includes a raft of changes around service delivery models, public health initiatives and a shift from acute to primary care.

During a question and answer session with Sarah Montague, he acknowledged that as the economy improved, the pressure to improve pay rates would increase across all industries, including the health sector.

“NHS staff have made a huge sacrifice during this period of global economic recession and austerity,” he said. “But the health service has for the most part continued to perform incredibly well during that period.

“Over the medium term, the NHS has to pay in line with pay rates across the rest of the economy if we’re going to be able to continue to attract some of the best and most committed staff for nursing jobs and other jobs across hospitals and primary care in England,” said Mr Stevens.

“We know there are more pressures and people are working incredibly hard and that’s why we’ve got to change,” he added. 

His comments built on similar references to NHS pay in the new five-year plan – Five Year Forward View.

Simon Stevens

Simon Stevens

It stated that NHS employers should consider how working patterns, pay and terms and conditions can change to “fully reward high performance, support job and service redesign, and encourage recruitment and retention in parts of the country and in occupations where vacancies are high”.

As the economy recovers, NHS pay will need to stay “broadly in line with private sector wages”, the plan said, to avoid frontline staff shortages.

Speaking at a media briefing on the report yesterday, Mr Stevens, who took up his post in April, also acknowledged that around a third of the £20bn savings that his predecessor Sir David Nicholson set for the NHS by 2015 had been achieved through staff pay freezes.

“Ultimately if the NHS is not paying competitive rates, then that shows up as nurses walking [away] and [job] vacancies in hospitals,” he said.

Members of Unison, Unite and the Royal College of Midwives went on strike last week over the government’s decision to reject recommendations for a blanket 1% basic pay increase for NHS staff on Agenda for Change.

This was followed by four days of working to rule and a rally in London on Saturday, calling for “fair pay” across the public sector.

The current dispute follows a 1% rise last year on the back of a two-year pay freeze.


Readers' comments (11)

  • michael stone

    I heard him on 'Today'.

    I think he said, if my memory serves me, not quite this:

    'As the economy recovers, NHS pay will need to stay “broadly in line with private sector wages”, the plan said, to avoid frontline staff shortages.'

    I think he said “broadly in line with private sector wages over the medium term”.

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  • It has to be said that many of the issues the media has highlighted could have been avoided by keeping the highest calibre staff in the profession and in the UK. I am one of a very few people of my cohort still registered, within 5 years less than 10% were still practicing. This is a very expensive wastage of skilled resource. Turnover of 25% per annum is not uncommon in areas like London. If it takes around 6 months to become orientated and effective in a role, how many in post are actually performing at Proficient to Expert level?
    At least a 20% rise across the board ensuring the lower end get a living wage and there is reward for experience and the advanced skills Nurses now take on. Band 5 Nurses now undertake roles and responsibilities that a Doctor at registrar level formerly undertook and no adjustment of reward has taken place.
    RCN and other health unions need to seriously get their act together or we will not have a profession left to practice soon.

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  • My interpretation was that he was suggesting that NHS pay and T&C as a whole need to be on a level (competitive) with the private health sector and that therefore the package would be likely to become less generous as part of the drive for efficiency.
    I think this article has it backwards. Perhaps you should do a survey and an article on private sector remuneration for nurses to provide a benchmark?

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  • I agree with the above comment. I have recently returned to the NHS after spending four years working for a private provider. This company paid me a lot less than the NHS. 17 years qualified, 21 years experience by the time I left the comany, based on no pay rises or increments, I was paid the same as somebody who had been qualified for three years!

    My incentive to leave was finding a ten year old pay slip which showed was taking home the same as ten years ago.

    The company was a profit making business which also lead to staffing levels so low it was unsafe. This was my main reason for leaving. The managers didnt care about front line staff looking after up to 12 patients, which made me fearful for my pin.

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  • within the next 5 years there will be a large number of experienced Nurses able to retire (including me) and if things don't improve they will go.

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  • michael stone

    Anonymous | 23-Oct-2014 3:26 pm

    'Perhaps you should do a survey and an article on private sector remuneration for nurses to provide a benchmark?'

    Isn't one of the really annoying things about this 'NHS work being pushed out to the private sector', that it is often impossible to get data from private companies, in the way that data from the NHS is available, because people quote 'commercial confidentiality' ?

    So is it possible, to properly work out what nurses in the private sector are paid ?

    I agree that NT could try and ask - but would that be regarded as enough ?

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  • i am going to retire reluctantly and have advised my daughter not to go into nursing...carnt believe it has come to this

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  • too late - already gone!

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  • Agreed I will be gone by the time it is sorted out. Plan to go early on a reduced pans ion. Can't stand being an NHS nurse any longer

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  • It's not just about pay but the culture pervading the NHS.
    I feel honoured to have been an NHS nurse for 30 years but the last 3 years have been tortuous.
    Thankfully I retire in 3 months

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