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Nurses and midwives call for fair pay as Hunt commences pay round

Health secretary Jeremy Hunt today sent a letter to the NHS Pay Review Body, starting the 2018-19 pay round process for staff.

The announcement has been greeted speculatively by both the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) and the Royal College of Midwives (RCM), with both saying staff should not be expected to “fund their own pay rise.”

Both colleges are concerned about a section in the announcement made by chancellor Philip Hammond in the Autumn Budget, which linked any pay increase with improvements in productivity.

In his letter, Hunt wrote: “The chancellor committed at Autumn Budget to provide additional funding for pay awards for staff employed under the national Agenda for Change contract provided the awards are part of an agreement with Agenda for Change trades unions about reforms to boost productivity.

“In considering future remuneration of these staff, I am therefore asking NHS Employers to continue exploratory talks with the Agenda for Change trades unions, with a view to the latter obtaining mandates to negotiate a multi-year agreement.

“Any agreed deal would need to be one that gives valued staff a fair pay rise alongside improving recruitment and retention and developing reforms which better reflect modern working practices, service needs and fairness for employees.”

Ending the pay cap

Currently, NHS staff have been held to the same 1% pay cap as other public-sector workers since 2013, but the Budget announcement seemed to bring an end to that policy.

However, staff fear that the extra money they receive will come from the same, or a very similar, funding total to the one received at the moment – meaning overall services would receive less and be able to employ less staff.

Jon Skewes, RCM director for policy, employment relations and communications explained: “The need to fund fair pay for NHS staff is now well overdue. Seven years of pay restraint has seen the value of pay of the average midwife drop by over £6,600 since 2010 and when the RCM submits our evidence to the PRB we will show the drastic impact this has had on midwives and maternity support workers and the impact this has on the service and care they provide.

“England is 3,500 full time midwives short of the numbers needed; a shortage that has lasted over a generation. The most recent workforce figures have shown a collapse in the numbers of EU midwives who are applying to work in the UK due to increasing uncertainty of their working rights post Brexit which threatens to make the shortage even worse.

“Last year the RCM conducted a survey that found 80% of midwives who are considering leaving midwifery would stay if they had a fair pay rise.”

The RCM has called for a pay rise in line with RPI inflation at 3.9%, along with an £800 uplift to cover losses since 2010.

In addition, RCN Chief Executive Janet Davies said: “Nursing staff need a meaningful pay award. They can’t continue to put up with the year-on-year erosion in pay they’ve endured for the last few years, adding up to a 14% pay cut in real terms since 2010.

“More and more nursing staff are struggling to pay their bills or even put food on the table for their families. Increased pay is vital so that existing staff stay, and the health service is able to begin to fill the tens of thousands of nursing vacancies.”

The RCN also called for an £800 payment to cover lost earnings, as well as an above-inflation pay rise.

The organisation has other payment concerns too, specifically about the lack of clarity on the pay award in Northern Ireland, where nursing staff have not yet had a pay increase for 2017/18.

“In the absence of an Assembly or Direct Rule Minister, we call for urgent clarification about how a decision will be reached on the Northern Ireland pay round,” Davies commented.

The Labour Party have criticised the government’s lack of details on the pay award, saying the government should commit to giving all NHS “the pay they deserve” amid fears of a worsening workforce crisis.

“It is staggering that ministers are still refusing to give details of a pay rise for NHS staff, even six months on from a General Election at which their pay cap was roundly rejected,” said Justin Madders, shadow health minister.

“The government say they want to see workforce reforms made to increase productivity, but they’ve said nothing about what changes they want made, what level of pay rise staff can expect to see, or whether a pay rise will be applied across the board.”

Top image: NurPhoto/SIPA USA/PA Images

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