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Basic earnings for NHS nurses have fallen over past decade

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Pat Cullen of the RCN Falling pay has left some nurses 'having to choose between heating and eating' says RCN boss Pat Cullen

Between 2011 and 2021, NHS nurses’ average basic earnings fell by 5% in real terms after accounting for consumer price inflation, analysis by the Health Foundation has revealed.

According to the analysis, while the trend in nurses’ average earnings compared favourably with teachers and police officers, for example, the government-imposed 7-year public sector pay cap (which ended in 2017), led to a significant drop in nurses’ pay compared with overall average earnings across the wider economy. Nurses’ average earnings fell by 1.2% a year in real terms between 2010 and 2017, while economy wide employees’ average earnings fell by 0.6% a year in real terms over the same period.

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‘‘The NHS has long suffered from chronic nursing shortages. With many nurses burnt out after working on the COVID front line, and all now facing increased cost of living challenges, it’s vital that nurses feel valued and their hard work is fairly recognised when this year’s pay settlement is implemented by government,’ said James Buchan, Senior Fellow, The Health Foundation.

‘We also need to take a longer term perspective that reflects changes in the external environment and changing trends in the labour market to ensure that NHS pay can be used most effectively as part of an overall workforce strategy. That is why we are arguing for the need to shift to a three year pay cycle and review the current system to ensure it is not discriminatory, and for there to be a more targeted approach to any pay enhancements or flexibilities.’

According to the Health Foundation, if the NHS Pay Review Body recommendations accept government’s request to cap any pay increase for 2022/23 at 3%, a further significant real-terms reduction in nurses’ pay will be the likely outcome. Additionally, there must be a fully effective and independent review body system, based on full commitment of all parties, including governments, to accept, implement and fund its recommendations in full.

‘After hearing this hard-hitting and independent analysis, it is hard to see how ministers and an independent Pay Review Body could disagree with a word of it. The report is external verification of our positions and the level of pay award we are calling for from governments,’ said RCN General Secretary and Chief Executive, Pat Cullen.

‘When they announce the pay deal any day now, ministers’ plans will be judged against the findings here. It shows the profession has seen real-terms pay cuts over the last decade and now inflation is expected to hit double digits, leaving some to choose between heating and eating. At present, the UK Government is ignoring the worrying trend of leavers outstripping student intake - action is needed now to ensure nursing is an appealing education and career path.’

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