There is a growing workforce crisis in the NHS as the chickens come home to roost after years of pay restraint.
Typical nursing salaries have lost 17% of their real value over the past six years. To compound matters, almost all of this year’s nominal 1% pay award for nursing staff has been wiped out by higher national insurance contributions.
Pay restraint has made it increasingly difficult for employers to recruit and retain enough nurses to keep services running. As a result, spending on expensive agency staffing has soared. A major factor in this vicious circle is that many hard-pressed nursing staff turn to agency work to supplement their falling incomes.
Controls on agency spending in England, introduced this year, are having little impact as employers routinely override caps to source sufficient staff.
With this in mind, it is hard to fathom how any government could think scrapping the bursary for students will improve the nursing supply. As we gaze into an uncertain future, the looming Brexit puts at risk the huge contribution EU nursing staff make to our NHS.
So, to stop a crisis turning into a disaster for patients and the public, the government needs to make the NHS a more attractive place for nurses and prospective nurses to work and progress their careers. This can only be done by casting aside the straitjacket of a 1% pay policy.
Unison and our sister NHS trade unions have put forward three straightforward ideas for starting this process in the 2017-18 pay round.
First, a return to UK-wide pay scales. Different decisions by the four governments have led to growing pay disparities for the same jobs in each nation. We need to fix this, levelling all pay scales up to Scotland’s rates.
Once that’s done, the lowest Agenda for Change pay bands need to be restructured to deliver the real living wage for hardworking staff, such as healthcare assistants and receptionists. Failure to address low pay now will mean the statutory minimum wage will soon overtake NHS pay rates, requiring a £280 million injection just to stay legal.
Finally, there must be a fair pay award for all NHS staff to compensate for the real cost of living increases affecting health service employees.
Theresa May cannot claim to be on the side of the NHS if she refuses to value and support NHS workers.
Sara Gorton, Unison deputy head of health