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 Guardian - - NATIONAL POLITICS - De­nis Camp­bell Health pol­icy edi­tor The chan­cel­lor, Philip Ham­mond, in­ter­viewed on the An­drew Marr Show yes­ter­day Pho­to­graph: Jeff Overs/BBC/PA

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.”

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