NHS pay rise before Christmas call

Unite and health unions reiterate call for significant NHS pay rise as second Covid-19 wave hits the UK

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As the UK enters a deadly second wave of the coronavirus pandemic, NHS staff are again working flat out – as they have since March – to treat and care for their patients.

And while prime minister Boris Johnson has long praised the dedication of health service workers – some of whom saved his own life when he was stricken by the virus earlier this year – NHS staff who are risking their lives to save others deserve more than just words.

This week, Unite and the 13 other health unions, representing more than a million workers in the health service, have written to the prime minister urging the government to commit to a well-deserved pay rise for NHS staff in time for Christmas.

In the letter, the unions wrote that with “a second wave upon us, intensive care units are under immense strain, with some rapidly nearing full capacity, and the Nightingale hospitals are on standby”.   

“Once more NHS staff will be relied upon to protect and care for us all,” the letter continued. “But health workers are exhausted, with many still recovering from the first virus peak. They’re anxious too, especially as they know what’s coming this time.”

The health unions noted that NHS workers are now under even more stress than they were during the first wave of the virus, because now they will have to also treat non-Covid patients from the backlog of cancelled appointments and operations earlier this year.

“They feel stressed, burned out and fearful. It is increasingly unrealistic to ask them to carry on regardless,” the unions wrote.

“The pandemic has affected staff profoundly and many may not stay around when the job is done. Raising pay this year could persuade them to change their minds and prove attractive to thousands of much-needed potential NHS recruits.”

The latest call for a pay rise for NHS staff comes as it is revealed that many workers in the health service, despite their sacrifices, do not even earn enough to cover the rising cost of living.   

Today (November 9) is the day that the Living Wage Foundation revises its calculation of the minimum hourly rate that people need to live on – it now stands at £9.50 an hour, up from £9.30. In London, the real Living Wage now stands at £10.85 an hour.

But so many NHS workers, such as cleaners and porters – whose efforts have been absolutely vital during the pandemic – earn below this Living Wage, with the lowest salary band in the NHS standing at just £9.21 an hour.

Commenting, TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said why it was so crucial that the UK’s key workers receive a pay rise.

“Key workers have shown courage and dedication during the pandemic,” she said in a comment piece in the Mirror today. “They don’t need applause, badges or treats. They need the Government to sort the pay, conditions and respect they deserve.

“That’s how to really thank the people who are getting us through this crisis.”

The need for a pay rise for NHS staff becomes increasingly urgent as the health service comes under greater pressure – earlier this week, it was announced that one-to-one nursing care for critically ill Covid patients would be suspended as the NHS struggles to cope with the influx of new coronavirus patients.

And it’s not just health care staff themselves who believe they should be paid better for their efforts and sacrifices – a poll earlier this year found that a massive majority of the general public, 73 per cent, wants a ‘significant’ pay rise for NHS workers before the end of the year, with only 10 per cent saying health staff should wait until April next year.

Even the government’s own supporters overwhelmingly back a pay rise for NHS workers, with almost 4 in 10 Tory voters saying the government ‘will have broken its promise’ if it doesn’t give health workers a pay rise.

In September, Unite joined other health unions in specifically calling for a 15 per cent pay rise or £3,000, whichever is greater. Unite wrote to the government to lodge its pay claim for the NHS workforce, saying that this claim would be an important step in the journey to restore the pay that NHS workers have lost in the decade of austerity since 2010.

Commenting on the renewed call today (November 9) for an NHS pay rise, Unite national officer for health Colenzo Jarrett-Thorpe said, “As a second wave of the coronavirus pandemic engulfs the UK, ensuring that our hardworking NHS staff – who’ve risked their lives to combat this virus – are properly rewarded for their bravery has never been more important.

“So many hospitals now are at breaking point and struggling to cope with the latest influx of Covid patients,” he added. “On top of this, they now also have to work flat out to clear the backlog of cancelled appointments and operations. Many of them are going the extra mile summoning extraordinary bravery, even as they are forced to relive the unspeakable trauma of the first wave of the pandemic.

“If NHS staff – from nurses to doctors, porters to cleaners, paramedics to pharmacists and many more in between – had been properly paid for the work they do on a daily basis before the pandemic, then we wouldn’t be in the position where we are today, with chronic understaffing making it that much more difficult to combat this deadly virus while also treating and caring for non-Covid patients,” Jarrett-Thorpe went on to say.

“Our health service workers aren’t asking for the moon – they’re only asking that they be valued for the work they do, and that a pay rise reflects the fact that they’ve suffered nearly a decade of real-terms pay cuts under austerity.”

“A significant pay rise before Christmas is not only the moral thing to do for these staff who have sacrificed so much, it is also essential for the safe and effective running of the NHS. We urge the prime minister to bring pay talks forward without delay.”

By Hajera Blagg

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