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Unions warn of staff exodus if pay freeze is extended


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, 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.


Readers' comments (36)

  • tinkerbell

    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

    So the amount this unelected government saves on cutbacks to workers co-incidentally is the same amount as it took to implement the NHS reforms. So in effect NHS workers are paying for the NHS reforms. Couldn't make it up could you?

    What a treacherous, greedy, amoral lot they truly are?

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  • come on the tory wasters have to give thier mates some more profit from the nhs!!
    otherwise they wont bankroll thier next election

    so why not take it from the nurses once more..thats fair

    god these eton morons are despicable!!!

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  • is this happening to anyone else or is it just nurses that are being treated so badly?

    i've been top of my band for years now, haven't had a pay-rise, it's a disgrace.

    i had to laugh when an unpleasant visitor told us 'I pay your wages' when complaining about something trivial.

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  • Anonymous | 9-Oct-2012 10:05 am, well you should have said 'pay us a decent one then and we might have the staff to listen to your complaint!' (I know you couldn't, but I bet you really wanted to!)

    The staff exodus is already happening. It is not something that 'might' take place if things get worse, it is happening NOW because things are already bad. The worse things get, the more it will escalate.

    Put aside for a moment the large numbers of those who are retiring or taking early retirement, there are a significant number of nurses leaving the profession entirely for pastures new (myself included). I know many good nurses personally who now work outside of nursing and the NHS. How many more are considering it? How many nurses are out of work due to ward closures etc?

    Couple that with the fact that there will be fewer student nurses coming through the system because they have slashed the numbers, and I can imagine many are being put off by seeing the pay and conditions.

    This will lead to a significant staffing problem very, very soon. Or at least it would, if wards and hospitals weren't being closed at a rate of knots which hides the figures somewhat.

    Either way, I reached my breaking point with the NHS a while back, and pay and working conditions were a huge factor in that. How many more feel the same now?

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  • We all pay our own wages in a way because of the tax that comes out of our salary, something your unpleasant visitor obviously didn't consider. Perhaps they thought we didn't pay tax, NI etc! A patient remarked to me other day about 'all you nurses on £30,000 a year'. She really thought we all did. She was soon put right on that one.

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  • It makes me sick to think that I and many other nurses have worked for the best part of our lives in the NHS. Myself 35 years now, and very soon I am going to be debanded and will only get 12 months protected pay all to save money that they have wasted on other ludicrous projects. I will be 55 next year so if I carry on working on my hugely reduced salary my pension will be based on my new lower wage! Therefore I have no option but to retire at 55 when my protected pay finishes and to join an agency or something. I would love to hear from anymore nurses out there going through the same and what their plans are. Also I just came across an old article about chief exc in Wales getting protected pay for 10 years! Why are they protecting people at the top who may have only given a few years to the NHS and us on the front line nothing? How they get away with it beats me.

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  • thank god I left the nhs last year..what a shambles it has become since the tories took over!!

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  • tinkerbell

    Anonymous | 9-Oct-2012 1:21

    Please advise. I have never been very knowledgeable about my pension. I am the same age as you but i reduced my hours to 30 in April this year because it was all too much for my old bones and i could no longer work 10 shifts in a row. Does this mean i will get less pension. I can't afford to retire yet as haven't always paid into the pension but have been nursing for 25 years and paid in for 18 years. Would i have more pension if i hadn't reduced my hours from 37 1/2 to 30 this april. I was 55 last week and could have retired then as have MHO (Mental Health Officer Status).

    Any advice on the matter greatly appreciated. Thanks.

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  • Tinkerbell

    Go here to begin with

    The relevant part of the page reads ---

    "If you work for the NHS or a GP Practice please ask your pension/payroll/HR department/practice manager for an estimate of your retirement benefits as the majority of employers have access to an online retirement modelling tool that is available 24/7. This will be much quicker than requesting one from NHS Pensions as this could take up to 8 weeks. If your employer does not have access to this service or you are a deferred member please complete the electronic form below."

    Best of luck !

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  • Tinkerbell

    You can also find a NHS pension calculator here

    It is simple to use and may provide the information you require

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