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Last year claps warmed hearts and boosted morale, but it now feels like the only recognition health care workers are getting.
Last week, after a slightly shambolic day, the government announced the pay award for NHS staff in England. The minister, who had failed to tell the House of Commons just a few hours earlier, finally revealed the government’s plans in a series of hurried evening phone calls. Light on detail and high on spin seemed to be the order of day.
The next morning, it quickly unravelled. Not only is the 3 per cent award below inflation but it became clear ministers aren’t prepared to even find the cash. Senior NHS figures joined us in saying the health service cannot do even more from within its current tight budgets.
At the beginning of the year, we worked with economists to demonstrate the credible economic arguments behind a significant pay rise. Putting money in the hands of NHS staff, who are found in every bit of the country, acts as a much-needed boost. If the headline initial cost to the Treasury looks large, rest assured it recovers 80 per cent of the money by various means.
The NHS runs on the goodwill of staff and they are finally starting to call time on it
August will see the RCN and other unions put this deal to a vote of members in England while holding campaign protests right across the UK. The finances in Westminster determine the money available for the NHS pay bill in all four countries.
Our members in Scotland had an offer put to them just before the parliamentary elections this spring. The deal, averaging 4 per cent, was rejected by a strong margin in May and we have entered into official dispute there. Is Boris Johnson confident his pay deal will avoid a similar fate?
“I can’t pay my bills with claps” has become regular refrain in the NHS these days. What last year warmed hearts and boosted morale, now feels like the only recognition health care workers are getting. Our campaign – for a 12.5 per cent pay increase – is about so much more than a post-Covid sweetener.
Even before the pandemic, the NHS was missing tens of thousands of the nurses it needs. And when we asked our members last year, many more said they were considering leaving the profession over the toxic combination of extreme pressure and low reward.
Out of that very discussion, we arrived at our pay claim – a figure that gave ministers a chance to show they finally understood the contribution nursing staff make to safe and high-quality patient care. One that made up lost ground after a decade of real-terms cuts worth thousands of pounds for experienced nurses.
Old stereotypes about nursing have been smashed by the pandemic but these below-inflation pay awards from government continue. Patients need safely staffed hospitals and other services and they will not forgive ministers who won’t rise to the challenge of keeping and boosting the nursing workforce.
Platitudes won’t be enough to turn the tide. They want recognition of their worth as highly-trained professionals fulfilling complex, safety-critical roles. And a significant pay rise is a key part of that. The NHS runs on the goodwill of staff and they are finally starting to call time on it.
Graham Revie is a nurse and RCN chair of the Trade Union Committee.
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