Hunt suggests controversial public sector pay cap could be scrapped

The recently reappointed health secretary, Jeremy Hunt, has promised to “reflect back” conversations that he has with the NHS workforce to the chancellor before he makes any decision with regards to the current government freeze on public sector pay.

Asked by NHS Confederation CEO Niall Dickson during the organisation’s annual conference if there are any prospects of lifting the freeze, Hunt stressed that he “has a great deal of sympathy for the case that nurses, amongst others, have made on the issue of pay”.

“I think they do an absolutely brilliant job, they work very hard, and we need to factor in that there is an enormous amount of goodwill and an enormous amount of time given free of charge, because people care about their jobs,” said the health secretary. “They see it not as a job, but as a vocation.

“We have our budget that we have to live within, but public sector pay is a matter for the chancellor, because it’s policy that’s set across the whole government. It’s for the chancellor to decide what the approach is to public sector pay over the course of the Parliament.

“But I had a very constructive letter from Janet Davis, head of the Royal College of Nursing (RCN), since I came back into office. I will be meeting with her and I will make sure that our conversation is reflected back to the chancellor before he makes that decision.”

Responding on Twitter, the RCN said it “welcomed Hunt’s comments about nursing pay”, adding: “We look forward to meeting you to discuss this further.”

The #scrapthecap hashtag is now circulating quickly on social media, with several NHS staff and wider supporters calling on the government to drop the policy – which is widely regarded as damaging and demotivating for the workforce.

Back in May, the RCN threatened to launch the first-ever strike in its 100-year history over the 1% pay cap. While its members have not yet voted for industrial action, the royal college has promised a “summer of protest activity” planned for the coming months. 

While Hunt did not go as far as committing to drop the controversial policy, he did emphasise in his keynote speech that “the evidence is clear that motivated staff give better care, and we know that we rely on a huge amount of goodwill in order to deliver the care we’re giving today”.

“This isn’t about platitudes: this is about taking concrete action to make sure that we do support them and that they feel that support,” the health secretary said, piling on heaps of praise to staff for working harder than ever under “challenging circumstances”.

Separately, Hunt reassured delegates that securing the status of the circa 150,000 EU nationals working in the health and care system is “absolutely top of our list” in upcoming Brexit negotiations. He intends to ensure their rights remain “broadly the same” as they are now.

His commitment come after NHS Confederation launched a new Brexit Health Alliance that will seek to ensure important issues are given the prominence they deserve in the imminent negotiations.


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