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Conservative handling of pay labelled provocative

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Nurses in England would have received the one per cent pay rise if Labour was in government said Andy Burnham, the shadow health secretary.

On 24 November, the day of the second strike, Mr Burnham stated that he couldn't understand why health secretary Jeremy Hunt, had not accepted the Pay Review Body's recommendations. He labelled the decision 'highly provocative and in the end counterproductive.'

Mr Burnham acknowledged the difficulties that constant pay freezes have on nurses. 'We've had years of freezes and very modest increases and then professional fees being put up through the NMC, which is all coming straight off people's family budget. I hear nurses in my own constituency asking what are they meant to do, they're just taking a hit year after year. The way [Jeremy Hunt's] handled it is pretty appalling actually.'

Mr Burnham claimed that Mr Hunt hadn't met enough NHS workers at the coalface and so was unaware of what they are going through.

'I don't think there have been many meetings with the staff and the trade unions. They've got to sit down and talk properly. You've got to at least hear what people are unhappy about.'

Mr Burnham said that he had heard reports that some student nurses in Rochester were having to rely on foodbanks and accused Mr Hunt of being out of touch with nurses.

When asked whether nurses across the UK should receive the same pay, he said: 'In a national health service, yes. I don't think it helps any part of the UK if you get a competitive situation, with staff being undercut in one part. It means that you get shifts and movements of staff and you want stability in the workforce across all parts of the UK.'

He also commented on the disparity between staff nurses and agency nurses. 'If I was a nurse working in the NHS right now and looked at the bill for agency staff, I would find that galling and incredibly frustrating.'

Neither Mr Hunt nor Dan Poulter, the parliamentary undersecretary for health were available to comment but a DH spokesperson said: 'NHS staff are our greatest asset and we want to make the current pay system fairer – which is why we have put forward proposals that would guarantee all staff would get at least a one per cent pay rise this year and next, but these have been rejected by the unions.

'We have taken tough decisions to increase the NHS budget, but we can't afford a consolidated pay rise in addition to increments without risking 10,000 frontline jobs.'

Peter Carter, the chief executive of the RCN, has previously called the Conservatives justification of the decision 'disingenuous'.

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