NHS workers will be awarded a pay rise of 3 per cent, triple the amount first proposed after the government faced a wave of criticism for undervaluing those who have struggled through the rigours of the pandemic.
Health secretary Sajid Javid said the pay bump, to be backdated to April this year, was offered to health service staff despite a wider public-sector pay freeze “in recognition of their extraordinary efforts” during the Covid pandemic, which has left nearly half a million Britons in need of hospital care.
But unions have expressed dismay that the deal still fails to keep pace with the predicted level of inflation, representing a cut in real terms.
The Royal College of Nursing made clear that industrial action remained on the table. Both the RCN and Unison, the healthcare workers’ union, warned staff could quit in response, deepening workforce problems in the NHS and jeopardising patient safety.
Pat Cullen, RCN chief executive, complained about the “shambolic” delivery and the substance of the announcement.
She said: “When the Treasury expects inflation to be 3.7 per cent, ministers are knowingly cutting pay for an experienced nurse by over £200 in real terms.”
Hospitals and other parts of the NHS have been struggling to recruit nurses and healthcare support workers amid warnings that many more are on the verge of leaving. “With today’s decision, ministers have made it even harder to provide safe care to patients,” Cullen argued.
“The profession will not take this lying down. We will be consulting our members on what action they would like to take next,” she added.
Trade unions representing 1.3m healthcare workers had been pushing for a pay rise as high as 12.5 per cent to reflect the heavy burden placed on NHS staff during the coronavirus pandemic and now by the huge treatment backlog.
Christina McAnea, general secretary of Unison, complained the increase, for consultants, nurses, paramedics, cleaners and other health workers, did not match that being given to counterparts in Scotland. Scottish NHS workers have been granted a 4 per cent pay rise, backdated to last December, and a £500 bonus.
Staff had already been made “to hang on until the summer — long after their wage rise was due”, McAnea said, and were “now expected to meet the deadly challenge of a new virus wave”.
The government had failed to show staff they were valued: “There’s a risk many may not stay around to see the NHS through the pandemic and the clearing of the Covid backlog,” she added.
In March, the government recommended a 1 per cent pay increase for healthcare workers to the NHS pay review body, citing a wider public-sector pay freeze. But the suggested figure was met with anger by staff for falling far below the current inflation level of 2.5 per cent.
Danny Mortimer, chief executive of NHS Employers and deputy chief executive of the NHS Confederation, said “importantly” the new pay deal exceeded the uplift originally proposed but warned it would need to be fully funded. The 3 per cent increase for NHS staff could cost as much as £2.2bn, according to health charity The King’s Fund.
The proposal excludes 61,000 junior doctors in England, who are subject to a separate four-year agreement that is set to conclude in 2023. The current deal for junior medics, who last took strike action in 2016, involves a yearly pay rise of 2 per cent, falling short of the package offered to other NHS staff.
For other public sector workers earning above £24,000 a year, including teachers, police and civil servants, the government will “pause” headline pay awards in 2021-22. Low-paid staff, on below the median wage, have been granted a £250 pay increase.