A further pay rise for nurses in the NHS in England could leave general practice with a deeper recruitment and retention crisis, Nursing in Practice has been told.
General practice nurses (GPNs) have said practices won’t be able to compete with employers offering Agenda for Change contracts if nurses working in the NHS receive a larger pay award, as currently being campaigned for by the Royal College of Nursing (RCN).
The concerns come after members of the RCN narrowly voted to reject the government’s most recent pay offer in England, which would have seen NHS nurses given a one-off payment between £1,655 and £3,789 for 2022/23 and a 5% consolidated (permanent) pay increase for 2023/24.
Following the rejection, the RCN subsequently announced a 48-hour strike to take place over the Coronation bank holiday and also confirmed plans to ballot their members again to enable an extended strike mandate.
Becky Wych, a nurse partner at Combe Down Surgery in Bath and member of the chief nursing officer’s shared decision-making council for primary care, said she feared what a further increased pay offer for the NHS could mean for those in general practice.
While Ms Wych told Nursing in Practice she ‘wholeheartedly’ supports her NHS colleagues that are taking strike action, she was also concerned that general practice will face increasing difficulty recruiting and retaining staff.
‘If they get a big pay step, how are we going to compete with that when we’ve got less money coming into general practice,’ she said.
‘We can’t give the same amount of annual leave, we can’t afford the same sick pay, we don’t have maternity pay. I fear for general practice and nursing.’
While the RCN has previously suggested that an increased pay offer to Agenda for Change staff would help general practice nurses negotiate better contracts, Ms Wych does not believe this is the case.
‘I am a partner in a GP practice. Practices are closing and there is not the money to do it,’ she said.
‘Of course we want to pay our staff well but when the money that’s going into primary care has not gone up how can business compete?’
Meanwhile, Jan Gower, a nurse practitioner working in Cambridgeshire, said she was ‘fully supportive of the nurses striking’ but also believes that a new pay settlement ‘may well create further issues’ with recruitment in general practice.
‘We already have an issue recruiting from the acute sector because the terms and conditions are poorer than they are already on, and quite often they are taking a cut in pay or band to come into general practice.’
Ms Gower also believes that it is ‘highly unlikely’ that nurses in general practice will see ‘anything like’ the pay increase currently being offered to nurses on agenda for change.
Meanwhile, Sarah O’Donnell a GPN in Leeds, stressed it was important to recognise that nurses in general practice who have ‘worse’ terms and conditions were not involved in this current dispute between unions and the government over NHS pay. But she also added she was ‘glad [NHS] nurses are doing what they feel is best’ in relation to the upcoming strikes.
In a recent letter to the general secretary of the RCN, Pat Cullen, health secretary Steve Barclay said that he was ‘both disappointed and concerned’ about the college’s latest strike plans.
Mr Barclay said he would ‘welcome a meeting’ with Ms Cullen about the RCN’s ‘escalatory’ strike action – which is set to have no derogations in place, meaning nurses in intensive care, emergency departments and in cancer care would be able to strike this time around.
However, he also said it should be recognised that the latest offer for NHS staff still ‘stands’ and that he would ‘hope to see it implemented in the interests of all Agenda for Change staff’ after all unions have concluded their consultations.
Unison, a union representing a large number of nurses working in the NHS, voted ‘overwhelmingly’ to accept the pay offer with 74% voting in favour. A similar pay consultation for Unite will close on April 28, however the union has this week also announced new strike plans.
Responding to the concerns of GPNs, RCN head of education Heather Randle said: ‘Pay is a key issue. Practice nurses are not paid on NHS terms and conditions and often have only statutory sick pay and maternity pay, and no release or funding to access training, education and development.’
Ms Randle called on ministers to ‘address these issues urgently’ saying that health promotion and prevention would continue to suffer in the absence of action.