In September 2021, the pay rise debate for health staff flared to a climax with the government setting the pay rise expectations for the year ahead. Once again, this has come back to the headlines in newspapers across the country, with NHS staff set for a monumental strike action period in response to the cost-of-living crisis and pay disputes. We covered the debate 12 months ago, but much has changed in the wake of lockdowns and a shrinking economy.
In our article dated 31st September 2021, the initial rise was chartered at 1% initially and then 3% following consultation with NHS GPs, nurses, consultants and other healthcare staff. This amount caused fury in the sector and the Royal College of Nursing called the raise ‘shambolic’ and would reportedly leave staff £200 a year worse off. At the time, the money was being sourced from existing budgets and patient funding, meaning a hit on services. The government, however, said, ‘For the average nurse, this will mean an additional £1,000 a year, while many porters and cleaners will receive around £540’.
Now, a pay rise of at least £1,400 for the current financial year has been offered. This only represents a rise of between 4% and 5% with the government stating it is pushing government finances to breaking point even honouring this level of increase. The NHS Pay Review Body was involved in the decision and is an overall 1-2% increase on top of the 21-22 amount. Health bodies such as the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) are demanding a match for inflation plus 5%. With the chancellor set to make decisions on budgets and potentially gearing up for a decade of austerity, it remains to be seen how a compromise can be found. An alleged source of the Department of Health and Social Care claimed in The Guardian that the RCN, “is seeking a 17.6% rise, which if applied to all NHS staff covered by Agenda for Change – paramedics, physiotherapists, cleaners and porters, for example – would cost £9bn”.
The debate is reaching a fever pitch, with the RCN this week balloting members who have expressed their discontent and for the first time ever are voting to strike from their posts – from The Guardian, “The RCN has balloted its members across the UK. The results, published on Wednesday, show that a majority of nurses in most but not all hospitals and other NHS services across the four home nations have rejected the government’s offer and decided to strike in pursuit of better pay”. The prospect of striking nurses has launched this conversation into the public consciousness, with the results being potentially catastrophic for care divisions, emergency care and pressures on the service, already entering a dark winter.
Many health professionals are terrified at the prospect of what could happen to the NHS and patients during the strike period. Urgent and emergency services and emergency surgery are expected to be upheld as a priority with many services running on skeleton crews. The hours are likely to be bank holiday levels of care, raising pressures and waiting times in a period of already sky-high wait time KPIs. Patients receiving chemotherapy, dialysis and other chronic care services will likely be postponed, causing an ethical and moral lean to the debate to come into view, with some saying the strike action is a dereliction of duty.
In a winter of the cost-of-living crisis, it’s likely these strikes will be the first in many of public sector workers strikes. The RCN, championing nurses’ rights to better pay, put out a statement to members and the media to show resolve and clarify the much needed industrial action they’re urging, ““This is a defining moment in our history, and our fight will continue through strike action and beyond for as long as it takes to win justice for the nursing profession and our patients. Anger has become action – our members are saying enough is enough. The voice of nursing in the UK is strong and I will make sure it is heard. Our members will no longer tolerate a financial knife-edge at home and a raw deal at work”.