The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) has missed a deadline for submitting evidence to the independent NHS pay review body (PRB) for this year’s pay award, MPs were told today.
Philippa Hird, the PRB’s chair, told members of the Health and Social Care Select Committee that the department had missed the deadline, and still have not provided evidence 21 days later. As a result, the committee’s findings would not be available before the end of April, weeks after pay rises should be implemented.
Former health minister Steve Brine told the committee that he was ‘astonished’ the DHSC had missed the deadline.
The NHS PRB is the advisory body responsible for producing a recommendation to the government on adjusting pay for more than a million NHS staff. Last year, the PRB recommended a pay rise of just over 4% for nurses; leading to a wave of unprecedented NHS strikes.
The PRB receives a ‘remit letter’ for the Government, which lays out the Government’s requirements for the recommendation, and also evidence from the Treasury and DHSC.
However, Ms Hird told the committee that Government inactivity has made it more difficult to produce a recommendation to the proper schedule.
In the last two years the remit letter had only arrived at the end of November, almost two months later than expected, she said. adding that this ‘means it is impossible for us to report in time for any awardee to be paid on 1 April’.
Ms Hird added: ‘The Government evidence, it was due on 11 January. A couple of days before that I wrote to the minister to reiterate the importance of the deadline, and he wrote back straight away confirming that he understood the importance of the deadline.
‘We’re carrying on working with our current timetable and we’re not at the moment planning to put anything back. We are aiming to report by the end of April 2023. I’m still expecting evidence from the Government – if it doesn’t come, we will cross that bridge when we come to it.’
Ms Hird confirmed that the Treasury had provided evidence, and that it was ‘just that we don’t have evidence from the department of health and social care.’
Mr Brine said that he was ‘astonished that you have been able to confirm that today.’
Health secretary Steve Barclay also faced questions on this delay later in the day when he appeared before the committee. Mr Barclay said that the delay was in order to keep the Government’s options open in ongoing discussions with the healthcare unions.
This comes after the joint health unions representing nurses and other NHS employees announced that they would not submit joint evidence to the pay review body, citing concerns over the fairness of the process. The unions instead called for direct talks with minsters.
The PRB itself also came under criticism from the committee, with several members questioning whether the body was sufficiently independent from the Government.
Asked whether the PRB was ‘restricted’ by the Government’s remit letter and is simply ‘handed the envelope’ on the issue of pay, Ms Hird said that the body still ‘feels like a very independent process’.
Facing concern that the ‘Government’s voice is the only on being heard’, Ms Hird added that ‘we listen hard to a very, very wide range of voices and we come up with a body of evidence that informs debate’.