The Weekly paper of the New Communist Party of Britain
Week commencing 31st March 2017

NHS workers 1 per cent pay blow

by Daphne Liddle

HEALTH workers throughout Britain and their unions reacted as one body with extreme anger at the Government’s announcement that it was “pleased” to increase their pay by just one per cent. As inflation is currently running at around 2.5 per cent and likely to rise as the value of the pound falls, this amounts to a real and painful pay cut to hundreds of thousands of workers who are already badly underpaid.

The announcement comes after the governments in Scotland and Wales also confirmed one per cent pay rises for NHS staff.

Ministers said they had accepted recommendations from the Pay Review Bodies (PRBs) for increases in the coming year for health workers including doctors, nurses, dentists, midwives and porters. But unions warned that low pay will drive workers out of the NHS as they struggle with mounting bills for housing, fuel and food, and not enough money.

The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) described the pay announcement as a “bitter blow”.

Janet Davies, RCN chief executive for England, said: “This deals a bitter blow to nursing staff across England. The nursing profession is rightly held in high regard but kind words don’t pay the bills.

“With this announcement, the Government will deter new people from joining the nursing profession at the very moment it is failing to retain staff and European colleagues in particular head for the door.” The RCN campaigned hard for an above-inflation pay increase but the continuation of the cap means that pay will lag behind the cost of living for the sixth year in a row.

Janet added: “It amounts to another real-terms cut to pay packets — the Government is still refusing to keep nursing wages in line with inflation. The Government has already cut nursing pay by 14 per cent in real-terms — leaving too many struggling and turning to foodbanks and hardship grants.”

The decision on nursing pay in England is exacerbated by the recent announcement from NHS Improvement banning NHS staff from working agency shifts at their trust or any other. “Many nurses rely on working extra hours for the NHS as agency staff but, from next week, they will be forced to work through a ‘bank’ and accept lower rates of pay than they get in their normal NHS job,” said Janet.

Rehana Azam, from the GMB union, said: “Public sector workers desperately need a real pay rise, not the miserly and cruel decision being imposed on them by the Government.

“Theresa May talks about helping those who are ‘just about managing’, but it’s clear that she doesn’t include over five million public sector workers.”

Christina McAnea, head of health at Unison, said: “This deal amounts to less than £5 a week for most midwives, nurses, cleaners, paramedics, radiographers and other healthcare staff.

“It’s a derisory amount in the face of soaring fuel bills, rising food prices and increasing transport costs. Without the cash to hold on to experienced employees, the NHS staffing crisis will worsen as people leave for less stressful, better rewarded jobs elsewhere.”

Doctors’ leaders have accused the national pay review body of using its recommendations as “cover” for driving down frontline salaries. BMA council chair Mark Porter said: “The DDRB [Review Body on Doctors’ and Dentists’ Remuneration] is recommending just a one per cent pay uplift for doctors, well below the current cost of living rise of 2.3 per cent. In real terms, doctors’ pay has sharply declined in the past five years, with junior doctors seeing their income drop by 17 per cent at a time when their morale has been badly hit by the Government’s mishandling of the new contract.”

Unite national officer for health Sarah Carpenter said: “What the PRB has proposed is woefully inadequate and means that the majority of NHS staff will have experienced a loss of income in real terms of about 17 per cent since 2010.

“This won’t staunch the recruitment and retention crisis currently affecting many healthcare professions, which is exacerbated by the ugly Brexit shadow hanging over the future of the estimated 55,000 EU nationals working for the NHS.

“Health secretary Jeremy Hunt often speaks warm words in support of NHS staff, but the reality is that he has been quite content to see this serious erosion in NHS pay continue; he has adopted this complacent attitude since taking up the health portfolio in 2012.

“Our members deserve so much more — and the public recognises this fact far more clearly than Tory ministers.

“Lurking in the background are the 44 Sustainability and Transformation Plans (STPs) for England which, we believe, are a subversive vehicle to privatise NHS services and this may have a severe impact on pay, and terms and conditions in the future.”