Health unions tell May: scrap pay cap to win back voters
Bodies representing 1.3m NHS workers write to PM Brexit talks ‘must focus on retaining foreign staff’
The NHS pay cap is unfair, unpopular and dangerous to patient safety, bodies representing 1.3 million health service staff warn Theresa May today in a plea to scrap it in the Queen’s speech.
The move by doctors, nurses, dentists and other health professionals comes as the prime minister faces intense pressure to ditch the policy, which has limited NHS staff to 1% pay rises or less since 2010 and is due to continue until 2020.
In an unprecedented joint letter to May, the health trade unions say that the policy was a key reason why the Tories failed to win enough seats at the general election to govern alone. “By your own admission, austerity and a lack of investment in the public sector was a significant factor in the general election result. Many have said that the pay freeze in the public sector was in part to blame for your failure to secure a parliamentary majority,” they say.
Last week Stephen Crabb, the former work and pensions secretary, said voters had told him they would not back him because of spending cuts. Teachers, nurses and local council staff all deserve a pay rise, he told the BBC.
NHS staff are angry about the pay clamp as inflation has soared from 0.3% in May 2016 to 2.9% last month – its highest level in four years.
The unions urge May to “mark a clear change in direction” in the Queen’s speech, now scheduled for Wednesday. “The public sector pay cap has forced professionals out of jobs they love. Those who stay are overstretched and under pressure to do ever more with less,” they write. “The longstanding cap stands in the way of recruiting and retaining the best in health care.”
The letter’s signatories include the Royal College of Nursing, the British Medical Association (the doctors’ union), and the British Dental Association, which represents dentists. Unison, Unite and the GMB, which represent nurses, paramedics and many other NHS staff, have also signed, as has Managers in Partnership, the union for about 7,000 senior managers across the health service.
“[The cap] is having a profound and detrimental effect on standards of care for people at a time when the NHS is short of staff across every discipline. This is alongside an uncertain future for EU nationals working in health and care,” they write.
With the NHS turning 69 on 5 July, May should mark its 70th year by scrapping the policy of real-terms cuts in income as a way of showing how much she values NHS staff and patients, they add.
Jonathan Ashworth, the shadow health secretary, said: “Our hardworking NHS staff deserve better than to be taken for granted by a Tory government content with demanding more for less … the election result proves that the public will no longer tolerate this government’s neglect and disregard towards those who care for us at our time of need.”
Responding to hints from the health secretary last week that the pay cap would be lifted, at least for nurses, Ashworth added: “Jeremy Hunt claims nurses have his sympathy, but frankly they need actions and not more empty promises.”
Every 1% increase in staff pay would cost the NHS an estimated £500m.
In a brief statement, the Department of Health said that “the support and welfare of NHS staff is a top priority as they do a fantastic job”. Sources at the department stress that this year’s 1% pay rise was based on a recommendation of the NHS Pay Review Body. However, they also warned that 1% rises were no longer sustainable and that its remit had prevented the body from suggesting a bigger increase.
Meanwhile, the BMA is urging ministers to make the needs of an NHS under pressure – especially due to staff shortages – a priority in their Brexit negotiations, which start today.
Dr Mark Porter, the union’s chair of council, said: “Leaving the EU poses several risks to healthcare across the UK, not least in its staffing as almost half of the 10,000 doctors working here are considering leaving … These doctors have enhanced the UK’s medical research, brought expertise to the NHS and higher education, and filled shortages in specialities which may otherwise have been unable to cope. While we welcome the government’s pledge to provide certainty for EU nationals working in the NHS, the time has come for it to deliver fully on those repeated promises by providing them with permanent residence in the UK.”