Unions Call for Significant Pay Rise to Halt NHS Staffing Shortages

Peter Russell

January 24, 2022

Only an "inflation-busting" pay rise for healthcare workers can prevent staffing shortages in the NHS becoming a permanent feature, an alliance of health unions has warned.

In evidence to the independent NHS pay review body, 14 unions – representing 1.2 million health staff in England – called for a "significant" pay rise for 2022-23 to protect against "soaring" living costs, help boost recruitment, and prevent existing staff leaving their posts.

Call for Direct Negotiations

The joint health unions said there was no need to wait until the review body reported later this year. "If direct pay talks with Government can deliver a speedier pay outcome, then unions could get around the negotiating table instantly," said Sara Gorton from UNISON, chair of the joint health unions.

The unions did not publicly disclose a figure for the pay rise they were seeking but said a "significant" wage boost would help halt the exodus of NHS staff who had been left exhausted in the wake of COVID-19.

As well as an inflation-proofed pay rise, the unions called for an 'emergency retention package' that would see earnings of the lowest paid workers increased above real living wage rates, and for any extra shifts worked to be rewarded fairly. Also, limits on excessive hours should be introduced to prevent burnout.

Evidence Deadline

The unions said they were concerned that the Government had yet to produce a submission to the NHS pay review body, and that it could miss today's deadline.

Joanne Galbraith-Marten, director of employment relations and legal services at the Royal College of Nursing, said: "Ministers repeatedly inflicted real-terms pay cuts on NHS staff and, this year, the spiralling cost of living puts them under even greater strain.

"Exhausted and demoralised staff need to know the Government is on their side – not to hear that it is stalling again on NHS pay."

The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said NHS staff, including doctors and nurses, had "rightly" received a 3% pay increase this year, "which has increased nurses' pay by £1000 on average".

In November, England's Health Secretary, Sajid Javid, submitted a 'remit letter' to the NHS pay review body, in which he said that the Government "must balance the need to ensure fair pay for public sector workers while protecting funding for frontline services and ensuring affordability for taxpayers".

It went on: "We must ensure that the affordability of a pay award is taken into consideration to ensure that the NHS is able to recruit, retain and motivate its Agenda for Change workforce, as well as deliver on other key priorities, including ensuring the NHS has 50,000 more nurses by 2025 and tackling elective recovery."

The letter promised further evidence from Mr Javid's department and NHS England.

The DHSC said it had also submitted remit letters to the Review Body on Doctors' and Dentists' Remuneration, and the Senior Salaries Review Body.

'Time is of the Essence'

Sara Gorton commented: "Last year Government dithering caused health workers to wait months for a measly pay rise. Ministers mustn’t make the same mistake again.

"An above-inflation increase alone isn't a magic solution to the NHS' many problems. But a decent wage boost could be just the trick to persuade many burnt-out staff to stay.

"Time is now of the essence. The Government needs to pull its finger out and show it's prepared to act quickly to hold on to experienced health workers, protect the NHS, and cut waiting times."

Jon Skewes, executive director for external affairs at the Royal College of Midwives, said: "It’s high time the Government gave our NHS workers the respect they deserve. Let's hope they don't fail to meet their own deadline again today, as this will further erode the little morale that's left among NHS staff.

"Every part of the NHS is severely suffering with recruitment and retention issues. Staff are leaving in their droves. They've had enough, and a fair and decent pay rise may well prevent those who are considering leaving, to stay."

The 14 NHS unions are: British Association of Occupational Therapists, British Dietetic Association, British Orthoptic Society, Chartered Society of Physiotherapy, Royal College of Podiatry, Federation of Clinical Scientists, GMB, Managers in Partnership, Prison Officers Association, Royal College of Midwives, Royal College of Nursing, Society of Radiographers, UNISON, and Unite.

The unions' submission came as Unite announced that hundreds of hospital workers employed by outsourcing company Serco at three London hospitals would go on strike for 2 weeks from January 31 in a dispute over pay.

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