A Labour government would use pay restraint and make “difficult choices” about the wages of NHS frontline staff if the party wins the election next year, Andy Burnham has said.
The shadow health secretary said he wanted a deal for staff that was “right and fair” and which reflected rises in living costs and other pressures, such as increases in professional fees for nurses.
“I think it’s going to be an on-going reality that there is going to have to be difficult choices about pay”
In an exclusive interview with Nursing Times’ sister title Health Service Journal, he said he accepted there was “always a trade-off between what you can pay and job numbers”.
Asked if he would use pay restraint to address the health service’s long term financial challenges, he said: “Of course.”
However, Mr Burnham agreed with comments made last week by NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens that “you can’t have pay freezes forever”.
“I think it’s going to be an on-going reality that there is going to have to be difficult choices about pay,” the Mr Burnham.
“There’s no getting away from that. Everyone understands that,” he said, adding: “There is always a trade-off between what you can pay and job numbers.
“Also, there needs to be a further discussion about hours and working conditions,” he said, appearing to echo the current government’s hopes of persuading unions to agree to re-negotiate parts of Agenda for Change.
“But it needs to be done in a context of social partnership, where you have those discussions openly between NHS employers and the trade unions,” said Mr Burnham. “That clearly has been abandoned in recent times.”
He added that the independent NHS Pay Review Body was “very important [and] worked for both sides”.
He described the coalition government’s decision to reject its recommendation this year for a 1% pay rise as “a bad one”.
“We have made commitments on staff numbers because I don’t think you can get away from it,” he said. “We’re running on empty in places at the moment.
“Equally, Simon Stevens was right to say that you can’t have pay freezes forever because morale is a big problem and it’s a big threat,” he told HSJ.