NHS staff will see yet another year of falling income as the Pay Review Body (PRB) recommended yesterday (March 28) that health workers get only a 1 per cent pay rise next year – well below projected inflation.
Health unions including Unite reacted with anger at the news, which will mean that NHS staff will have experienced a loss of income in real terms of about 17 per cent since 2010.
The latest pay rise for nurses, doctors, paramedics and other health staff will see them have only an extra fiver a week in their pockets – nowhere near enough to combat the skyrocketing price of, for example, food, fuel and housing in the wake of a weaker pound as inflation rises to 3.2 per cent.
The PRB – set up to ensure a fair pay settlement for certain public sector workers such as health, prison service and armed forces staff – has been hobbled by the government imposing a 1 per cent public sector pay cap until 2020.
The policy has essentially rendered the PRB powerless – it argued in its annual report to ministers that the cap is simply no longer sustainable for an NHS already on its knees.
“It is clear that current public sector pay policy is coming under stress,” the independent body noted in its report. “There are significant supply shortages in a number of staff groups and geographical areas. There are widespread concerns about recruitment, retention and motivation that are shared by employers and staff side alike.”
The PRB highlighted that inflation is set to increase during 2017 beyond what was forecast, which, it said will lead to “bigger cuts in real pay for staff than were anticipated in 2015, when current public sector pay policy was announced by the new UK government.”
Unison has calculated that more than £4bn has been slashed from NHS staff salaries in the last six years after the government first imposed the pay cap.
This, Unison estimates, is the equivalent of an annual pay decrease of £2,288 for a hospital cleaner, £4,846 for a nurse and £8,364 for a clinical psychologist.
Unison head of health Christina McAnea slammed the latest pay recommendation as “a derisory amount in the face of soaring fuel bills, rising food prices and increasing transport costs.”
Unite national officer for health Sarah Carpenter agreed, calling the latest pay rise “woefully inadequate”.
“This won’t staunch the recruitment and retention crisis currently affecting many healthcare professions, which is exacerbated by the ugly Brexit shadow hanging over the future of the estimated 55,000 EU nationals working for the NHS,” she said.
‘Serious erosion in NHS pay’
“Health secretary Jeremy Hunt often speaks warm words in support of NHS staff, but the reality is that he has been quite content to see this serious erosion in NHS pay continue – he has adopted this complacent attitude since taking up the health portfolio in 2012.
“Our members deserve so much more – and the public recognises this fact far more clearly than Tory ministers,” Carpenter added.
Unite regional officer Kevin McAdam, who has responsibility for the union’s health workers in Northern Ireland, likewise blasted the PRB’s latest pay recommendation.
“Healthcare workers in Northern Ireland are already the lowest paid in the UK,” he said. “Such downward pay pressures are untenable in the long-term and have already resulted in the loss of critical healthcare staff to other parts of the UK and overseas, impacting the provision of local HSC services.
“These staffing pressures will be further exacerbated by the impact of Brexit in discouraging overseas staff from coming here to work in the NHS.”
Indeed, the latest figures show that since the Brexit vote, the number of EU nurses applying to work in the UK has plummeted by 90 per cent – against a backdrop of 24,000 unfilled nursing vacancies in the NHS. The chaos this has already created was investigated on Channel 4’s Dispatches programme earlier this month.
The devolved administrations in Scotland and Wales have accepted the PRB’s one per cent pay rise recommendation but have both committed to giving extra help to the lowest paid health workers in their nations.
The Scottish government will offer health workers earning less than £22,000 a year a £400 flat-rate increase, while in Wales, 7,000 low-paid health staff will have their wages uplifted to the Living Wage Foundation’s National Living Wage, now set at £8.45 an hour outside of London.
Unite Scotland lead officer for health Gordon Casey said that what’s been put forward is not nearly enough.
“Our members deserve more,” he said. “A one per cent increase will see them continue to lose money in real terms – especially now that inflation is on the rise. We will now take time to consult with them and decide on a way forward.”
Unite regional officer Richard Munn in Wales acknowledged that the PRB’s recommendations fell far too short but welcomed moves by the Welsh Labour government.
“We are extremely pleased that the Welsh Labour Government has taken the decision to uplift pay for the lowest paid in the NHS to £8.45 per hour for all staff who currently are paid below this level,” he said.
“This is 95 pence per hour higher or £1851 per year more (for full time posts) than the statutory living wage for over 25s which colleagues on the lowest pay in the Conservative run English NHS will receive. Yet again the Welsh Labour government are leading the way with regards to fair pay for the lowest paid.”
It isn’t only low pay that NHS England is facing – it also faces privatisation through the backdoor, Carpenter pointed out.
“Lurking in the background are the 44 sustainability and transformation plans (STPs) for England which, we believe, are a subversive vehicle to privatise NHS services and this may have a severe impact on pay, and terms and conditions in the future,” she said.
Find out more about Unite’s campaign against STPs here.