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Consider affordability when making nurse pay recommendations, says Hunt

Health secretary Jeremy Hunt has written to the chair of the NHS Pay Review Body, Philippa Hird, to ask that the body ‘considers affordability’ when making its recommendations for a pay increase next year.

In the letter, Mr Hunt confirmed that the Chancellor has provided additional funding for a pay rise, but only if the pay increase is ‘part of an agreement with Agenda for Change trades [sic] unions about reforms to boost productivity’.

He added that he expects their recommendations to be informed by the outcome of talks between NHS Employers and the unions.

Any agreement would need to be one that involves reforms ‘that better reflect modern working practices, service needs and fairness for employees’.

The letter follows Chancellor Philip Hammond’s Budget, where he announced that any pay rise would be dependent on ‘pay structure modernisation’, and is the first official sign from the Government that they are beginning negotiations with the unions over increasing nurse pay.

In a recent interview with the Health Service Journal, Mr Hunt hinted that part of the modernisation would include a reform of the system of pay increments currently afforded to Agenda for Change staff.

Chief executive of the Royal College of Nursing, Janet Davies, described the link between pay and productivity as ‘a concern’.

She said: ‘Nursing staff need a meaningful pay award. More and more nursing staff are struggling to pay their bills or even to put food on the table for their families, and increased pay is vital so that existing staff stay, and the health service is able to begin to fill the tens of thousands of nursing vacancies.

‘The link between pay and productivity improvements is a concern. Nursing staff cannot be stretched any further. The NHS would grind to a halt without all the extra hours they already work. Nurses should not be expected in effect to fund their own pay rise.  A fair pay rise is vital not just for nursing staff, but for patients and the NHS as a whole.

‘We will engage in talks with NHS Employers about the Agenda for Change contract, and  welcome the fact that the Health Secretary has confirmed the independence of the Pay Review Body.’ 

The letter in full:

I am writing firstly to express my thanks for the NHS PRB’s valuable work on the 2017-18 pay round and secondly, to formally commence the 2018-19 pay round.

The Chief Secretary to the Treasury wrote to you in September setting out the Government’s overall approach to pay. That letter confirmed that the Government has adopted a more flexible approach to public sector pay, to address areas of skills shortages and in return for improvements to public sector productivity. Review bodies should continue to consider affordability when making their recommendations.

The Chancellor committed at Autumn Budget to provide additional funding for pay awards for staff employed under the national Agenda for Change contract provided the awards are part of an agreement with Agenda for Change trades unions about reforms to boost productivity. In considering future remuneration of these staff, I am therefore asking NHS Employers to continue exploratory talks with the Agenda for Change trades unions, with a view to the latter obtaining mandates to negotiate a multi-year agreement. Any agreed deal would need to be one that gives valued staff a fair pay rise alongside improving recruitment and retention and developing reforms which better reflect modern working practices, service needs and fairness for employees.

This does not prejudge the role of the independent NHS Pay Review Body in recommending the level of pay award that these staff should receive. We would expect your recommendations to be informed by the outcome of talks with the Agenda for Change trade unions.

As always, whilst your remit covers the whole of the United Kingdom, it is for each administration to makes its own decisions on its approach to this year’s pay round and to communicate this to you directly.