I am grateful to the many constituents who have taken the time to contact me on the subject of NHS pay.
I should start by saying that like many others, I believe that the current circumstances demand more than the Government has recently recommended. I do believe that the last year will be defined by two things - in some sense contradictory, but also complementary. Firstly, the appalling suffering we’ve witnessed - both the images of people on ventilators, struggling for oxygen, and the quieter but no less acute suffering of those isolated without family and friends, attempting to grasp the threads of friendship and socialisation that previously held them fast the realities of everyday existence. But the year will also be defined by everyday acts of heroism. No-one will ever forget the heroic role NHS staff have played in first mitigating, and then pushing back the ravages of COVID-19.
That’s why in my view those extraordinary efforts should be requited with something rather more significant than the recommended 1% pay increase.
Alongside those sentiments, it’s worth remembering the very specific nature of the NHS pay structure. NHS pay (for over a million staff) is already currently growing as part of multi-year pay deals negotiated and agreed with their trade unions. These include a pay rise of over 12% for newly qualified nurses (with their average pay currently hovering somewhere around £34,000) and an increase of pay for junior doctors of around 8%. I’m also pleased to note that nurses, for example, until 2018 also benefited from near-automatic progression through pay bands every year. Since the 2018 pay deal (a 6.5% increase), such progression is now less frequent, but more generous – in most cases spending two years in a role will earn nurses a significant boost.
And as well as top-line pay, it’s important to see, contextually, that the Government has already invested over half a billion pounds in professional development and staff recruitment, together with providing £30 million for mental health support services for front line staff and a new bursary of £5,000 to every new nursing and midwifery student.
To return to the Government’s recommendation last week, we all understand the pressures on the public finances. But, given that the imminent economic re-opening (and consequent spike in national productivity) is, in no small part, thanks to the work of NHS staff, it’s crucially important that they share proportionately in its benefits.
In terms of what comes next, the Government’s recommendation is non-binding - the actual decision around the scale of the uplift will be determined by an independent review body in May. But, even in that context, I’ve already made my dissatisfaction with the Government’s 1% recommendation very clear to Ministers in the Department for Health and Social Care, and I will continue to push for the sacrifices made by doctors, nurses and support staff to be recompensed adequately.
This is not only important in actual terms, but symbolically too. Those who have sacrificed the most should receive a pay increase that reflects the scale of that altruism. And that is very much what I hope and expect to see when the independent review body makes their final determination.