The Conservatives cannot guarantee future NHS pay increases at least in line with inflation at present, but Labour has agreed to them “as a principle”.
The issue of pay was one of the subjects debated earlier today by party representatives at a general election hustings event hosted by the King’s Fund think-tank.
Health secretary Jeremy Hunt said if the Conservatives were to stay in government he could not commit at the moment to future pay rises in line with inflation, because he did not “know the full situation”.
“I want to be as generous as possible provided no decision I take means we end up having fewer doctors and nurses”
He said: “My principle is I want to be as generous as possible, provided that no decision I take as health secretary means that we end up having fewer doctors and nurses.”
Mr Hunt claimed the Conservatives were more likely to provide a “better” pay deal than other parties, because it had pledged the largest increase in funding for the NHS overall.
He referred to the £8bn extra funding by 2020 promised in the Tories’ manifesto, in addition to the £2bn extra NHS money announced in the chancellor’s autumn statement last year.
Shadow secretary Andy Burnham was also asked if he could commit to ensuring there would be no more real terms cuts to NHS pay in the future.
He said: “As a principle, yes I can… We’ve got a pretty good track record on these things, and I think people can look to us to see fairness in pay in the NHS, from bottom to top.”
“As a principle, yes I can [commit to not cutting pay in real terms]”
Meanwhile, Liberal Democrat care minister Norman Lamb agreed with Mr Hunt that there was “something of a trade-off between pay and numbers of staff in the overall picture”.
He said that the financial savings the NHS was expected to make over the next five years would not be possible through wage restraint, adding that the NHS would have to “keep up” with growing wages in other parts of the economy.
“It will not be a question of being able to scrimp on staff pay, we will have to be able to pay staff properly in order to attract staff into the NHS,” said Mr Lamb.