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”
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.
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.