The debate on NHS pay has again flared up amidst dismay at government offerings to NHS staff in the midst of an unprecedented epidemic in the UK. The raise for NHS GPs, nurses, consultants and other healthcare staff was initially set to be 1%, but was raised last week to 3%. Even the increase caused outrage across the healthcare sector with the Royal College of Nursing stating, ‘The sum is shambolic – and with inflation will leave staff £200 a year worse off’. The funding has been sourced from existing budgets – to the surprise of nurses in particular as the money is being removed from patient funding, meaning a hit on services. The government, however, had this to say in the press release around the raise, ‘For the average nurse, this will mean an additional £1,000 a year, while many porters and cleaners will receive around £540’.
Despite the unrest, new health secretary Sajid Javid MP, outlined the government’s thoughts, “NHS staff are rightly receiving a pay rise this year despite the wider public sector pay pause, in recognition of their extraordinary efforts. We asked the independent pay review bodies for their recommendations, and I’m pleased to accept them in full, with a 3% pay rise for all staff in scope, from doctors and nurses to paramedics and porters.” Controversy arose over the announcement of the changes which was not mentioned in a commons hearing into NHS services, with the shadow health secretary describing the omission as ‘contempt of our NHS’. The RCN recently announced a ‘summer of action’ in protest at the raise, which many nurses believe is insufficient for the personal and professional strain that has occurred in the wake of the pandemic, with some front-line nurses even losing their lives. At the upcoming RCN conference in September, there will be a vote by members on whether to stage industrial action which would spell disaster to NHS services already under pressure and huge waiting lists due to the scaling down of services to support coronavirus safety.
How does the NHS salary for nurses compare to other countries? A study compiled and presented in Health Matters states that the average salary across all levels of nurses in UK hospitals is £40,281. This puts the UK at 13th in the list, with countries like Germany and Norway earning £44,944 and £57,788 respectively. However, a significant number of NHS staff (43%) report at least 5 hours of extra unpaid work, and 3.5% clocking up almost 11 hours of unpaid work. With the coronavirus pandemic and pressures on ICUs and intensive care facilities, nurses often cannot simply ‘clock out’ when their shift is over due to the continued need with high dependency patients.
To progress with matters, a hearing with NHS staff between senior leaders and government should be undertaken to better understand what constitute a ‘reasonable’ pay-rise for nurses and other practitioners. One detects a hint of irony in the ‘clap for carers’ routine which started at the dizzying heights of the pandemic last April. Others argue that pay rates were set before the pandemic and that nurses and other healthcare professionals were fully aware of pay rates and future pay increases as set out in the Agenda for Change. In the light of this pandemic we have clearly seen a topple in the order of which jobs are deemed as important and not important – with anything healthcare related absolutely essential to societal functioning. The RCN and other bodies will not stop in their path to progress for pay, and it may be time for government to reward our workers, some of whom have made the ultimate sacrifice for patient care.