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Health Minister Claims 1% NHS Pay Rise Is “The Most We Can Afford” After Nurses Call It “Pitiful”

Nadine Dorries defended the 1% increase to NHS pay saying it was 'the most we think we can afford' (Alamy)

4 min read

Nadine Dorries has defended the government's decision to reward NHS staff for dealing with the Covid pandemic with just a 1% pay rise.

The minister for health said the small increase in salary “is the most we think we can afford”, despite a nursing union has calling it “pitiful”.

The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) said its members should be getting paid 12.5% more after spending a year tackling the pandemic, and warned the government to expect a “backlash”.

But speaking this morning Dorries told Sky News: "Of course, we recognise the sacrifice and the commitment and the vocation of nurses and all health workers over the past year.

"We've all been touched by, or personally experienced, help by NHS workers.

"But I think it is important to note that the priority of the government has been about protecting people's livelihoods, about continuing the furlough scheme, about fighting the pandemic, and we've put huge effort into that.

Dorries highlighted that "no other public-sector employee is receiving a pay rise, there has been a pay freeze,” but said the government did not want "nurses to go unrecognised – or doctors".

The minister, a former nurse herself, claimed that "the 1% offer is the most we think we can afford". 

The Department for Health and Social Care faced a backlash after its submission to the NHS Pay Review Body was published last night, which said awarding NHS staff a "headline" pay increase of more than 1% "would require re-prioritisation".Labour said such a small increase was "the ultimate kick in teeth to our NHS heroes who have done so much to keep us safe over the past year".

RCN chief executive Dame Donna Kinnair said the government was "dangerously out of touch with nursing staff, NHS workers and the public".

"Nursing staff would feel they are being punished and made to pay for the cost of the pandemic,” she added.

“It is a political decision to underfund and undervalue nursing staff.”

The chair of the British Medical Association council, Dr Chaand Nagpaul, accused the government of a "total dereliction" of its "moral duty and obligation to a workforce that is keeping the NHS on its feet and patients alive”.

But Dorries said her reaction to the news was rather different, and suugested she hadn't expected to see NHS staff get a pay rise at all.

"I was actually surprised because I knew that we'd frozen public-sector pay, that no-one in the public sector was receiving a pay rise," she told BBC Breakfast.

"I was pleasantly surprised that we were making an offer."

Dorries hit back against the government’s critics, saying the government "would love to do more" but she trusts Rishi Sunak “in handling the nation's purse strings”.

"All of us, the Prime Minister, the Chancellor, I don't think there's any of us who have not been touched or have needed NHS services over the past year," she added on BBC's Today Programme.

"The Chancellor believes that this is what we can afford to pay NHS staff across the board, and this is our recommendation to the pay review body, we will have to see what the pay review body come back and say, and we're also waiting for feedback from unions and all stakeholders across the sector.”

The minister tried to defend the 1% NHS salary rise by pointing out some 1.3 million public sector workers would not be getting any increase this year due to the blanket pay "pause" announced by the chancellor for 2021-22.

"All other public-sector employees are facing a pay freeze, are having no increase whatsoever, we didn't think that was the right thing to do for the healthcare sector given what they've been through over the last year,” Dorries explained.

"That is why we decided they have to have something and we've recommended the 1%, which is what we can afford."

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