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There’s still time to avert nurse strike action

(Alamy)

3 min read

Like others, I very much hope that the proposed strike called by the Royal College of Nursing on the 15 and 20 December can be averted.

As a nurse of some fifty years standing, I am aware that no individual nurse or other health care worker wants to disadvantage any patient through a strike.  However, nursing staff who worked at risk and diligently throughout the Covid-19 pandemic feel particularly disadvantaged with recent pay offers.

The independent review body made recommendations to increase nurses pay by a minimum of four per cent. The government and NHS employers agreed to the recommendation. However, the assessment for pay increases was conducted in the autumn of 2021, a period of stagflation rather than the significant inflation we have experienced since July of this year.

It is time to seriously consider the NHS paying off healthcare workers student fee loans after three to five years of service

Nurses on lower bands of pay, whose roles involve significant patient contact for the majority of their working time, are those on NHS Agenda for change bands five to seven. It is worth noting that degree qualified nurses leaving university employed on band five start at £13.64 per hour, with the potential to earn up to £16.84 per hour after three or four years. A nurse on band seven is often responsible for a team of nursing staff, working independently in the community or in a specialist nursing role, and earns between £21.31 per hour with a top hourly rate of £24.38.

Registered nurses currently qualifying leave with significant student debt, despite having a cost of living bursary while studying to reflect the clinical hours that are required during their studies. Once these nurses reach a salary level of circa £27,000 per annum they start to have 9 per cent of their earnings above this limit deducted towards student loan repayments. 

I have argued for some time that our newly qualified nurses are having to pay higher contributions towards their pension than in the past and this combined with student loan repayments is severely reducing their take home pay. It is time to seriously consider the NHS paying off healthcare workers student fee loans after three to five years of service, which are typically £27,000 for three-year programmes. This would increase individuals take home pay at a marginal cost to the NHS. Taken together with an additional pay increase backdated to October 2022 to recognise the current cost of living inflationary challenge would probably avert the strikes.

Any extra increase in pay this year could be considered against the pay body recommendations for 2023/24. Let’s face it, many private employers have made two staged pay awards this year because of inflation, so why not in the NHS?

Clinical nursing staff cannot work from home like so many other employees can. Nurses still have to pay full travel to work and childcare costs which have increased since the pay review body made their recommendations.

The strike has been called off in Scotland while talks continue there, let’s involve ACAS now and find a solution and avert the strikes in the rest of the United Kingdom.

 

Baroness Watkins, crossbench peer.

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