The Government has angered nursing groups after suggesting a pay rise for up to 3% for NHS nurses and healthcare staff in England.
The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) identified an ‘affordable headline pay award of up to 3%’ in evidence submitted yesterday to the NHS Pay Review Body (NHS PRB), which advises the Government on pay for NHS staff on Agenda for Change (Afc) contracts.
It revealed the Government had assumed a headline pay award of 2%, but the DHSC said it is making an additional 1% ‘contingency’ available for pay. However, the DHSC warned this ‘trade-off’ means the ‘contingency’ money will not be available for ‘other priorities’.
It explained: ‘As the NHS budget is now set, there are stark trade-offs between pay and other NHS spending. In addition, growing the workforce, however crucial, does come at a cost.
‘There is a direct trade-off between growing the workforce, investing in public services and giving higher pay rises, and this is the careful balance the government must strike to ensure the NHS remains an affordable, value-for-money service for the taxpayer.’
Paying staff more ‘than what is affordable’ will ‘lead to reduced ability to tackle the elective care backlog and expand clinical capacity to deliver a more effective health and social care system,’ it added.
‘Pitching nurses’ pay against patients’
Unions have argued the Government pay proposals do not go far enough amid rising living costs and said the ‘miserly’ rise could lead to more healthcare staff leaving the health service.
Responding to the evidence submitted, Pat Cullen, RCN chief executive, argued that ‘failing to pay a fair wage is a false economy’ because many nurses are thinking of quitting their ‘safety critical’ profession.
She said RCN members will see the Government’s comments ‘as a deliberate attempt to pitch nurses against patients’, adding that ‘politicians need to move beyond this false choice between paying staff fairly and safe staffing levels’ because ‘one is key to the other’.
Ms Cullen continued: ‘The elephant in the room seems to be the spiralling cost of living. By not acknowledging it, they are signalling to staff that their pay will just fall even further behind inflation.
‘The government must show staff they are valued and send a message to the public that patient safety is a top priority. This deeply unambitious starting point for the next pay round will not help the much needed recovery of services.’
Meanwhile, Sara Gorton, Unison head of health, said the ‘tight-fisted proposals’ would be a ‘wage cut in all but name’ because of the rising rate of inflation. It will ‘go down like a lead balloon with health workers struggling to fill up at the pump, buy groceries and pay bill’, she added.
The report from the NHS PRB – which will be submitted to the Government and recommend a pay rise for AfC staff – is expected in May 2022.
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