Unite has slammed the government for accepting the NHS Pay Review Body’s (PRB) recommendation of a 3 per cent pay rise for NHS workers announced on Wednesday (July 21).
It is understood that the PRB reported its findings to ministers weeks ago, but the PRB’s recommendation was only made public on Wednesday (July 21) more than 100 days after NHS staff were due a pay rise in April.
Health minister Helen Whately was slated to make the pay announcement as part of a ministerial statement on the NHS on Wednesday afternoon, but it is understood the announcement was pulled from the statement shortly before Whately addressed the Commons, without explanation.
Then just hours later at 6pm, the Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC) disclosed the PRB’s three percent pay rise recommendation, which was met with widespread condemnation by health workers and their unions, many of whom have warned they are prepared to take industrial action over the issue.
Labour’s shadow health minister Justin Madders criticised the government for failing to adequately reward NHS staff.
“After their hypocrisy applauding NHS workers while trying to cut their pay, the government must make our NHS and key workers feel supported and valued after all they have done for us,” he said.
Unite has said the 3 per cent recommendation is ‘woefully inadequate’ and a slap in the face to health workers who have sacrificed so much over the last eighteen months during the pandemic. Collectively, they have treated more than 400,000 patients who fell seriously ill with Covid-19 alone since March 2020.
Unite has highlighted that a 3 per cent pay rise would still amount to a real-terms pay cut for NHS staff, given that the RPI rate of inflation is 3.9 per cent and so would actually leave health workers worse off this year. The PRB’s recommendation also fails to take into account the chronic erosion of NHS staff wages over the last decade under successive Tory governments, with health workers having seen their pay plummet by 19 per cent in real terms.
Unite has also warned that failure to adequately reward NHS staff would only further exacerbate a recruitment and retention crisis that’s at breaking point. At present, there are already 100,000 vacancies in the health service, including 40,000 unfilled nursing posts.
A poll by the Mirror published in May found that nearly half of nurses – about 43 per cent – are considering leaving the NHS. A poll also found that 90 per cent of nurses feel the government doesn’t value them, while 85 per cent believed they were being unpaid fairly.
The recruitment and retention crisis engulfing the NHS was dramatically exemplified by the resignation in May of intensive care nurse Jenny McGee, who cared for prime minister Boris Johnson when he was treated in hospital last year after he fell ill with coronavirus.
After she quit, McGee spoke out publicly explaining that the government’s lack of respect for staff, and their failure to reward staff properly, led to her resignation.
Unite rep and ICU nurse Dave Carr told the Good Morning Britain on Thursday (July 22) morning that he and his colleagues were “gutted” by the pay announcement.
“It’s not just about pay for us personally; it’s about investing in the NHS,” he said. “Unless the NHS is invested in, unless our work is recognised and the value of what we give to society in keeping people well [is recognised], I think it’s an existential threat to our ability to carry out our core services. We’ve all worked really hard as an NHS family and it’s a real slap in the face and an insult to all of us.”
Commenting on the pay announcement, Unite national officer for health Colenzo Jarrett-Thorpe called it “grossly inadequate and underwhelming”, adding that it “in no way recognises the 19 per cent drop in real earnings that many NHS workers have endured in the last decade, nor the Herculean sacrifices that health staff have and are continuing to make as Covid infection rates rapidly rise again”.
“Members have been telling us that three per cent would be insulting and show that they are not valued,” Jarrett-Thorpe added. “It doesn’t even match the four per cent the Scottish Government offered to NHS workers backdated to December 2020.
“Three per cent will also do very little to staunch the escalating ‘recruitment and retention’ crisis and free up resources to tackle the enormous backlog in non-Covid procedures, such as hip replacements,” he continued. “It is estimated there are 100,000 vacancies in the health service and very little in the way of plan to recruit the numbers needed.
“The lack of respect that the Johnson government has shown to NHS workers is breath-taking as staff now face an increase that is still lagging behind the RPI rate of inflation, currently at 3.9 per cent,” Jarrett-Thorpe went on to say. “New Health and social care secretary Sajid Javid must give a ‘golden hello’ pay award to NHS staff and open the purse strings so we can have a NHS ‘fit for the purpose’ for the 2020s.”
Jarrett-Thorpe warned that Unite would be consulting with its 100,000 members in the health service over the coming days and weeks as to “the next steps”, which will “include a consultative ballot on industrial action”.
Ahead of the pay announcement, angry NHS workers took to the streets in a demonstration on Tuesday (July 21), where they marched from Old Palace Yard outside the Houses of Parliament to Downing Street and handed in a petition calling for a 15 per cent pay rise for all NHS staff. As of writing, the online petition had garnered more than 800,000 signatures.
The protest was organised by a grassroots campaign led by UK-wide NHS workers, called NHS Workers Say NO!
Jarrett-Thorpe said Unite fully supported the protestors, who represent “an exhausted NHS workforce who have given their all in the battle against Covid over the last 18 months”.
Unite’s long-standing policy has been an immediate pay rise of £3,000-a-year or 15 per cent, whichever is greater.
By Hajera Blagg