Matt Hancock says he will ‘fight’ to give NHS staff ‘fair reward’ after coronavirus crisis
Matt Hancock speaking at the daily Number 10 press conference.
Matt Hancock has promised to “fight” to ensure nurses and other NHS staff are given a “fair reward” in the aftermath of the coronavirus pandemic.
The Health Secretary said nursing was a “highly skilled profession” that deserved “decent pay”, amid reports that the Treasury is considering a fresh public sector wage freeze because of ballooning government borrowing.
A document leaked to The Telegraph this week revealed that a two-year freeze on state wages was among options being drawn up by the department in a bid to reassure markets that Britain has a grip on its public finances.
It reportedly predicted that such a move could raise £6.5billion by 2023-24 - although a Conservative source later insisted the Government would “not forget” the sacrifices of frontline staff battling the virus.
Challenged on nurses’ pay by a member of the public at the daily Downing Street press conference, Mr Hancock said: “I agree very strongly that nursing is a highly skilled profession and deserves decent pay.”
Most NHS pay was frozen from 2011 to 2013 and rises were then capped at the below-inflation 1% a year from 2011 until 2017.
A deal struck between the NHS and unions in 2018, however, earmarked a 6% pay increase over three years.
And Mr Hancock said: “We put up nurses’ pay last month and in fact last year we had the fastest rise, the biggest rise in pay, especially for nurses when they’re starting their career.
“And the lowest paid nurses got a payrise - very significant - of over 15%.
“So there has been a significant pay rise for nurses and I think one of the things the crisis has shown is just how much the nation values our staff across the health and care system, including nurses.”
The Health Secretary added: “When it comes to how we reward people for their efforts in this crisis, what I can tell you is that as the Health Secretary I will be making sure that we fight to have that fair reward.”
Elsewhere at the Number 10 press conference, Mr Hancock defended measures taken by the Government to try to protect care homes from Covid-19.
Bleak new statistics published by the Office for National Statistics on Friday revealed that 12,526 people died in care homes in England and Wales during March and April with Covid-19 listed on their death certificate.
The figures come after the Department of Health confirmed there had been 33,614 fatalities from the virus in the UK, meaning care home residents account for more than a third of the total.
The ONS analysis found there had been a sharp increase in both coronavirus and non-coronavirus deaths in care homes since the pandemic began, with 23,000 extra deaths registered between 28 December and 1 May compared to 12 months earlier.
Mr Hancock said the ONS figures “remind us that care homes do so much to look after our most vulnerable people in their frailty towards the end of their life”.
And he said: “I’m grateful for the ONS for having respnded to the requests to put extra resources into understanding and measuring all this.
“Right from the start it’s been clear that this horrible virus affects older people most. So right from the start we’ve tried to throw a protective ring around our care homes.
“We set out of first advice in February and as the virus grew we strengthened it throughout. We’ve made sure that care homes have the resources they need to control the spread of the infection.”
Pointing to a recently-unveiled £600m Infection Control Fund to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus in care homes, the Health Secretary said ministers were “building on the infection control processes that we put in right at the start and are built throughout”.
“It’s all part of doing everything we can to support people in care homes,” he said.
“And - the good news is that the number of cases, the number of new cases, is coming right down. But there is clearly a long way to go.”
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