A third of NHS staff have “seriously considered” leaving the NHS due to the threat of worsening pay and conditions, according to survey results shared with Nursing Times.
The findings will form part of evidence used by unions to argue for a pay rise for health service staff, as the threat grows of a further freeze on basic NHS pay awards.
Last week, it emerged that NHS Employers, which represent health service organisations, will call on the NHS pay review body to extend the current pay freeze for another year.
But unions will respond by warning the PRB it risks an exodus of staff from the NHS because of deteriorating working conditions and attacks on pay and pensions.
A joint survey carried out by the union staff-side council shows a third of the NHS workforce has “very seriously considered” leaving their job over the past 12 months. The council is due to submit the survey and the rest of its evidence to the review body later this month.
A source involved with the union submission told Nursing Times the survey results revealed the scale of the combined impact the pay freeze, pension changes, and attacks on terms and conditions were having on the morale and motivation of staff. “Our message will be you can’t keep attacking on all sides,” they said.
“A third of staff have reached the top of their pay band meaning they haven’t had a pay rise at all during the pay freeze and inflation has led to a real terms cut in pay of around 9%,” they added.
Unions will attempt to build a case to convince the PRB to award a small pay rise to NHS staff with any increase “bottom loaded” for those earning the least.
If an increase is granted it is likely to be lower than the rate of inflation. The Retail Prices Index is currently set at 2.9%.
The Department of Health is yet to submit its evidence to the PRB. But chancellor George Osborne has previously indicated that he would allow a below-inflation 1% increase across the public sector.
However, NHS Employers will tell the review body the NHS cannot afford even a 1% pay rise and has instead asked for the freeze to be extended. Around 70% of trust budgets are spent on pay and employers claim incremental drift, as staff progress through pay bands, adds around 2% to each trust’s pay bill.
As reported on nursingtimes.net, NHS Employers claimed in its submission there was “no evidence from employers that any increase in the national scales is necessary for the recruitment, retention or motivation of staff”.
But Christina McAnea, chair of the staff side-council and head of health at Unison, said: “For the bulk of Agenda for Change staff it’s important we remember we are not talking about highly paid staff.
“They have had two years of a pay freeze, increased pension contributions and inflation, which in effect has cut pay. There needs to be a reality check about how long staff can continue to take that.”
Josie Irwin, the Royal College of Nursing’s head of employment relations, said she was disappointed at the stance of NHS Employers. “Nurses and healthcare assistants are in the middle of two years of effective pay cuts at a time of increased pension contributions and rising inflation,” she said.
“Another year of this would be another major blow to the morale of hard-working nurses, many of whom are already struggling,” she added.
Unite head of health Rachael Maskell said NHS managers were “wildly out of touch with their own staff”, who she said were “at breaking point”.
The current pay freeze, which applies to all staff earning more than £21,000, is predicted to save the NHS £3.3bn by 2014-15.