Those who picked up their placards over the NHS pay deal in England may well be thinking they’ve notched up a victory.
The government performed something of a U-turn over its refusal to honour the 1% across-the-board pay rise recommended by the Pay Review Body, and strikes planned for 29 January were suspended. However, with a deal yet to be agreed in Northern Ireland, strikes went ahead in the province. The revised pay offer for NHS England staff is complex and details of how it may affect you are on page 2.
But would the government’s climbdown have happened if we weren’t less than 100 days from a general election? I think not. But since the sparkly baubles of the festive season were packed away we’ve been in the season of equally glitzy pledges from politicians. And in the fight for vital votes, suddenly the health secretary has worked out that he can, after all, afford to pay the 1% without losing any frontline jobs. He couldn’t afford it before, he said, but two days before a strike, and with the NHS in supposed crisis, his calculator has thrown out some different numbers.
It might, of course, have been Labour’s pledge to listen to the PRB if it was in power post-election. This came a day before the government decided to offer up 1%. Perhaps fearful of losing NHS workers’ votes and making the crisis in accident and emergency even worse with 12-hour strikes, it decided to make a new offer.
Meanwhile Labour has been promising to increase the number of nurses and GPs (see page 4), stating that if it is in power after May, it will increase nurse training numbers by 10,000. But those nurses will take three years to train. What will the health service do in the meantime? The Come Back To Nursing campaign is one aspect of the solution, but the service needs many more creative ways of ensuring we have the right nursing numbers right now.
Of course, the public may be convinced by the promise of more nurses, which may be enough to influence where they put their cross on a ballot paper. But those in the NHS know it’s a lot more complicated than that. The season of promises will continue right up until May, when the A&E winter pressures crisis might be long forgotten. But nurses working in overstretched trusts, struggling to offer patients dignified, safe and timely care, don’t need endless promises within election manifestos. They need solutions, and they need them now.
Jenni Middleton, editor
email@example.com. Follow me on Twitter @nursingtimesed