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OPINION

‘Poor pay has driven people away from the profession’

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Temperatures may have dropped since our late-summer protest outside parliament but, in the winterlong NHS pay negotiations, the debate remained heated.

Six months after 2,000 members of the Royal College of Nursing descended on Westminster, they can prepare for their biggest pay rise in 10 years.

“The deal has now shifted from negotiating tables to kitchen tables”

Even before the election fallout over the dismal wages paid to key public sector workers, the RCN called time on this exploitation of your goodwill. Political events took their toll and the pay cap, which had left annual rises languishing at 1%, was scrapped.

The deal has now shifted from negotiating tables to kitchen tables in the homes of over 1.3 million NHS staff. It is not a magic wand, but it is a significant step forward for nurses, healthcare assistants and others on Agenda for Change contracts.

If you support it by June, then payments are expected in July’s pay packets and backdated to April this year. The deal guarantees your pay for three years – giving some stability through the Brexit period too.

Critics have sought to throw up confusion and sow seeds of doubt, while others are confused. On this occasion, the newspaper headlines will match your pay slip.

If you’re at the top of your band, you will get a pay rise of 6.5% over three years. If you’re in the middle of your band, you could get between 9% and 29% more. Every single individual will see their pay go up by more than leaving the current system in place.

“The greatest rise in productivity comes by keeping staff well and happy at work”

The number of pay points in each band is being reduced and if you’re on a point that goes, you will move up and earn more. With fewer points too, you’ll get to the top of your band three years earlier than before.

A registered nurse on band 5 for three years who earns around £24,500 will be over £6,000 a year better off by 2020. Everybody is urged to look at the NHS Pay Calculator (nhspay.org/pay-calculator) to see what they will receive each year.

Critics fail to mention that the deal moves the lowest paid staff above the living wage for the first time. Nor do they mention the 12.5% increase to starting salaries.

Inaccurate speculation before the deal focused on staff giving up a day of leave entitlement or facing changes to vital unsocial hours payments. Unions fought hard to ensure unpalatable demands were taken off the table and neither will change.

From 23 April, if you’re a member of the RCN, you will be able to vote online about whether to accept this deal. But other unions are consulting their members too, so please find out how you can support it.

“Poor pay has driven people away from nursing and explains in part why our profession is shrinking”

The pay of nursing staff fell by 14% in realterms after 2010 and this deal makes up half of the lost ground for some, while closing it for others. The Treasury, despite staying wedded to austerity, will put over £4bn extra into the NHS so that your employers do not need to find an extra penny for wages.

The productivity drive for the NHS must be about getting the best out of people – not asking overstretched staff to do more with less. The greatest rise in productivity comes by keeping staff well and happy at work.

Progress made doesn’t stop at Hadrian’s Wall, Offa’s Dyke or somewhere in the Irish Sea either. Through a deal for England, the Treasury commits money to the three other nations and it must be spent on meaningful pay rises for NHS workers too.

Poor pay has driven people away from nursing and explains in part why our profession is shrinking. Vacancies will not be filled with the stroke of a Treasury pen but nursing staff should hopefully feel less financial pressure to change careers.

For the next generation, nursing begins to recover some of the attractiveness questioned in recent years.

Janet Davies is chief executive and general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing.

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