Speed up NHS pay rise call

Health unions: NHS staff deserve ‘early and significant pay rise’ now

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NHS workers who’ve risked their lives throughout the Covid-19 pandemic deserve a significant pay rise that should be brought forward as soon as possible, Unite and other health unions have said.

The 14 health unions including Unite have today (January 18) written to the prime minister urging him to speed up the process for NHS pay so that health service staff get a pay rise urgently.

The call comes at a time when Covid-19 cases, hospitalisations and deaths are rising rapidly and exceeding even the height of the first wave of the virus. In the letter, the health unions highlight how hospitals are ‘stretched to the limit’ with many health staff ‘demoralised and traumatised’.

Two ICU nurses, Unite members, told Channel 5 news last week of the unspeakable trauma that they and their colleagues have faced in recent weeks – the stress and anxiety has only been compounded by what they suffered at the peak of the first wave of the virus. In some cases, this has led to staff shortages.

“It’s certainly a lot worse since the last wave,” she said, “We’re running out of oxygen in lots of hospitals across the UK. But it’s not even just oxygen – it’s medication, it’s equipment. A lot of colleagues and friends of mine resigned after the first wave because they suffered with so much anxiety and ultimately PTSD. After this emotional impact it’s had on us, there’s no wonder why it’s led us to this massive staff shortage.”

Meanwhile Unite senior shop steward and ICU nurse Dave Carr told a similar story to Channel 5 News.

“Pressure on medical staff is absolutely enormous – our nurses are now working one-to-two, three or four [patients at a time],” he said. “This is coming out of the first wave of the pandemic and we’re absolutely exhausted. It’s incredibly tiring work and it’s incredibly frightening to watch this.”

With the enormous strain that NHS staff are under, Unite and other health unions have argued that an urgent and significant pay rise for all health service staff would go a long way in making them feel truly appreciated and could help reverse the worrying trend of massive staff shortages.

And new poll published today (January 18) to coincide with the letter sent to the prime minister finds that a majority of the public agrees. An overwhelming majority – 86 per cent – back some form of NHS pay rise, with more than half, 53 per cent, saying a pay rise should be brought forward urgently.

A large percentage – 40 per cent of the 2,000 people surveyed by pollster Savanta ComRes – backed a significant pay rise for all NHS staff.

Health unions’ letter to the prime minister reminded him of the power he has to bring forward a pay rise for NHS staff now.

“The majority of the public want this to happen, and it makes economic sense as health workers would have more money in their pockets to spend locally,” the letter read. “This would provide a much-needed boost for businesses when the lockdown begins to ease.”

The wider economic case for an early and significant pay rise for NHS staff was made in new research carried out by the London Economics consultancy, which found that 81 per cent of the cost of an NHS pay rise would be recouped by the government in the form of higher tax receipts.

The research notes that not only would the Treasury receive more in taxes paid directly by these health workers and their employers, but that the one million NHS staff who receive a pay rise would have more discretionary income to spend in local businesses – another boon to an economy hammered by the Covid crisis that would bring in yet more taxes.

“Over a million people work in the NHS,” said Royal College of Midwives executive director for external relations Jon Skewes, who also serves NHS unions’ treasurer. “Putting extra money in their pockets would not just acknowledge and recognise their hard work, it would also put cash into struggling local economies and help families at a time when many will be facing mounting financial difficulties.”

Beyond the economic case for an urgent pay rise, health unions have also highlighted that a significant pay rise is only fair, not just in light of the current pandemic but also because they’ve suffered a whole decade of real-terms pay cuts under austerity.

“NHS staff are worse off now than ten years ago,” said chief executive and general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) Donna Kinnair. “When tens of thousands of nurse jobs are vacant, the government cannot afford to let more leave over low pay. A meaningful rise will bring in new nurses and keep experienced ones in post.”  

In his spending review in November, chancellor Rishi Sunak exempted NHS workers from a public sector pay freeze this year, but the government has indicated so far that it will leave decisions on NHS pay until April, when the current Agenda for Change pay deal expires.

Unite and other health unions will continue to press the government to bring forward a much-needed pay rise, Unite national officer for health Colenzo Jarrett-Thorpe said.  

“Government dithering on NHS pay must stop,” he noted. “Unite calls for a well-deserved  early and significant pay rise for NHS workers of £3,000 or 15 per cent, whichever is higher, in our pay review body submission.”

 “81% of Unite health sector members reported staff shortages in the past year in a recent survey,” he added. “The government has neglected our NHS for a decade.”

By Hajera Blagg

Pic by Mark Thomas from July NHS pay demo

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