The majority of people in Britain believe the UK can afford to pay nurses more, suggests a new survey for the Royal College of Nursing.
The survey of more than 2,000 adults found 57% felt the government could afford to pay higher wages to nurses, despite its claims to the contrary.
“Nursing staff will be pleased and touched by the public’s overwhelming support and confidence in them and their vital work”
The RCN said an ongoing “pay freeze” had left nurses struggling and prompted many to think of leaving the profession.
The survey found 76% of people who took part agreed nurses were paid too little, while just 13% felt current pay reflected the level of skills needed for the job.
Meanwhile, nearly half – 46% – said they would be willing to pay extra income tax to go directly towards nurses’ salaries.
RCN chief executive and general secretary Janet Davies said nursing staff were “increasingly demoralised” and felt under-valued.
“For too long they have been told there is not enough money to pay a fair wage to NHS staff, and they have seen their living standards drop as a result,” she said.
“Restraining pay while demand increases is a false economy, making it harder for the NHS to hold on to the staff it needs and increasing expensive reliance on temporary staff,” said Ms Davies.
“Nursing staff will be pleased and touched by the public’s overwhelming support and confidence in them and their vital work,” she added.
She urged the government to re-think its decision to impose a 1% cap on public sector pay increases.
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“The consequences of any continued government short-sightedness on pay will be serious for nurses and patients alike,” said Ms Davies.
The government has stated in ministerial letters that it will fund annual pay awards in the public sector in England at an “average” of 1% from April.
The rises will be “targeted” to best support recruitment and retention, meaning the 1% will not be universally applied.
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It follows an announcement by chancellor George Osborne in the summer that it intends to increase public sector pay by 1% in each of the next four financial years, from 2016-17 to 2019-20.
The online survey was carried out for the RCN by the polling company ComRes. It surveyed 2,014 British adults aged 18 or over between 30 October and 1 November.