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How The 1% NHS Pay Rise Leaves Experienced Nurses With Just £3.50 Extra Per Week

5 min read

A major row has broken out between the government and healthcare unions as they attacked the "pitiful" proposals to increase NHS staff pay by just 1%.

NHS staff are furious after it was revealed that the government had proposed their pay would rise by just 1% from May, leading to claims the increase amounts to a real-terms pay cut for frontline staff.

Health minister Nadine Dorries claimed this morning 1% was all the government could afford, but in response the Royal College of Nursing has said they have a fund of £35 million ready to support strike action

The row broke out after the Department of Health and Social Care published their evidence to the NHS Pay Review Board which advises on the pay of NHS staff, in which they said any greater increase would require a "re-prioritisation" of the health service budget.

The plans relate to almost 1.4 million NHS workers across the UK apart from junior doctors, GPs and dentists, whose pay awards have been subject to separate negotiations in recent years.

But an analysis from the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) concluded the increase for an experienced nurse would add just £3.57 per week to their take-home pay.

In their example, the RCN said a nurse at the top end of an NHS' Band 5 contract, which equates to a yearly salary of £30,615, would see a rise to just £30,921 under the plans.

After paying a standard pension contribution, income tax and national insurance, they said the increase would mean their weekly pay would rise from £426.58 to £430.15 – a total of just £3.57

But the DHSC evidence, published earlier this week, argues that "trade-offs" in the health service would be required if pay was to rise above the figure, with officials warning the Covid pandemic had created "unavoidable direct and indirect financial impacts" on the budget.

"The government announced a pause in public sector pay rises for all workforces, with an exception for employees on basic full-time equivalent salaries of £24,000 or under and for the NHS," they wrote.

"In setting the DHSC and NHS budget, the government assumed a headline pay award of 1% for NHS staff.

"Anything higher would require re-prioritisation."

They added: "The NHS Budget is set for 2019/20 to 2023/24 and this budget includes money for planned workforce growth. This is why, as set out in our remit, there are trade-offs if money above affordability assumptions is spent on pay.

"The economic outlook for 2021/22 remains uncertain and pay awards must be both fair and affordable... COVID-19 has created unavoidable direct and indirect financial impacts in the 2020-21 financial year and contributed to a challenging wider economic context."But over a year into the pandemic which has engulfed the UK's health system, the proposals have been dismissed as "derisory" by healthcare unions who had been lobbying for a 12.5% rise to be implemented over the next several years.

RCN chief executive Dame Donna Kinnair said the "pitiful" pay rise could prompt industrial action unless ministers reconsider the figure.

"This is pitiful and bitterly disappointing. The government is dangerously out of touch with nursing staff, NHS workers and the public," she said.

"Nursing staff would feel they are being punished and made to pay for the cost of the pandemic. It is a political decision to underfund and undervalue nursing staff."

She added: "The government can expect a backlash from a million NHS workers. Taxpayers are supportive of a significant and fair pay rise for NHS workers - this year of all years."

On Friday the RCN announced they had already established up a £35m fund to support workers if they choose to go on strike over the dispute. 

RCN members would have to be balloted before any industrial action was considered, but even discussion of a possible strike is likely to heap further pressure on ministers to review the decision. When nurses were balloted over pay strikes in 2017, they were overwhelmingly in favour.

The British Medical Association (BMA) said the proposals were a "kick in the teeth".

BMA Chair of council, Dr Chaand Nagpual, said: "This is a total dereliction of the Government's moral duty and obligation to a workforce that is keeping the NHS on its feet and patients alive.

"Throughout the pandemic, doctors have cared for more critically ill patients than was ever thought possible and worked round the clock despite suffering from extreme stress and exhaustion, with BMA surveys showing significant numbers of doctors selflessly working extra hours without pay."

Labour have said the 1 per cent rise could equate to a real terms pay cut because while inflation is currently at 0.9 per cent it is forecast to rise to 1.5 per cent this year.

Shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth said: "A pay cut for NHS staff is the ultimate kick in teeth to our NHS heroes who have done so much to keep us safe over the past year.

"Rishi Sunak’s promised to be open and honest with the public yet shamefully insults every single member of NHS staff sneaking out this announcement and failing to include any mention of NHS pay in the budget.

"NHS staff deserve a fair pay rise."

But the DHSC hit back at the criticism saying over one million NHS staff were already benefiting from "multi-year pay deals agreed with trade unions, which have delivered a pay rise of over 12% for newly qualified nurses and will increase junior doctors' pay scales by 8.2%".

A spokesperson added: "Pay rises in the rest of the public sector will be paused this year due to the challenging economic environment, but we will continue to provide pay rises for NHS workers.

"The independent pay review bodies will report in late spring and we will consider their recommendations carefully when we receive them."

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