The truth is that paying nurses a decent wage is affordable, says Peter Carter
Nursing staff are some of the lowest paid of all public sector workers. However, in 2010 they accepted the Coalition’s decision to freeze public sector pay for the good of the country’s finances. With the economy starting to show some of those elusive green shoots of recovery and following the NHS Pay Review Body’s recent recommendation of a 1% rise, it would have been reasonable to assume that the government would have rewarded hard-working nursing staff with a decent, moderate, but meaningful pay rise. Not so.
The government continues to insist that it’s strapped for cash and that it is protecting posts and services by refusing to implement the pay rise. It argues it is stuck between a rock and a hard place: a compelling rhetoric but in no way the full picture.
“We need every nurse, midwife and healthcare assistant across England to join us in fighting against these unjustified attacks on pay and terms and conditions”
The truth is that paying nurses a decent wage is affordable. Last year the NHS in England under spent by an astonishing £2.2bn. This could have been used to reward nurses’ hard work with a pay rise. It was clawed back by the Treasury instead.
Not spending £3bn on an unnecessary reorganisation of the NHS would also have freed up some money. Vast sums could also have been saved if senior managers hadn’t received big redundancy payments, only to have been re-employed by the NHS weeks after leaving their jobs. Tackling the issue of NHS waste head on could also produce massive savings, with that money reinvested where it will do most good: on the frontline.
But failing to pay nurses a decent wage is not only unfair, it’s incredibly short-sighted. If we can’t afford to pay nurses a decent wage, then the crisis in nursing numbers will continue, we will fail to recruit those with the right skills and anyone and everyone who uses the NHS will suffer.
Up and down the country people tell me how much they value nurses and in the run up to the general election, candidates from all parties will be falling over themselves to pledge their allegiance to, and pride in, the NHS. That’s why the Royal College of Nursing is asking them to put their money where their mouths are and support nurses in their campaign for what’s right and fair.
We are less than a year away from a general election. MPs need votes, and nurses’ votes could be the difference between them returning to Parliament or being out of a job. That’s why the RCN has embarked on a sustained campaign to find out exactly where our future representatives stand on health workers’ salaries. We’ve already organised days of action and lobbies of Parliament to ensure that MPs sit up and listen and we’ll be rolling this work out across the country from now until polling day.
I know there will be people shaking their heads, saying “what difference does lobbying MPs make?” and calling for strike action. I say to them what I said to RCN members at congress: I know that people are angry, and how you choose to demonstrate that anger is up to you.
I feel just as angry. At the same time, I am convinced that a strike only makes a real impact if nurses walk off their wards and out of their workplaces, leaving patients who need them in the lurch. No nurse wants to do that.
There are many other effective ways to get our voices heard, which is why I believe our action should be about protest, lobbying and the ballot box. We need every nurse, midwife and healthcare assistant across England to join us in fighting against these unjustified attacks on pay and terms and conditions. They deserve to be valued and appreciated but the approach ministers are taking sends a different message. That’s why we intend to fight on so that the government does the decent and honourable thing and gives nursing staff a decent wage.
Peter Carter is chief executive and general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing