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RCN calls for members’ thoughts on separate pay spine

The head of the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) has warned that Agenda for Change has “lost sight” of the value of nurses, as the union begins a dialogue with its members on a separate pay spine for nurses.

Pat Cullen, RCN general secretary and chief executive, called for a “seismic shift” in the way nursing is recognised in UK healthcare and for the profession to be given better pay.

“I want the career pathway for nursing to be smashed wide open”

Pat Cullen

She announced today (31 January) that the RCN was launching a “listening exercise” with members, to ask for their thoughts on a separate pay spine for nurses.

The feedback will inform the RCN’s official response to the UK Government’s recently-opened consultation into the matter, which has previously divided healthcare unions.

The consultation, which opened earlier this month, is asking for evidence to determine the “risks and benefits” of a seperate pay structure for NHS nurses.

It will run for a total of 12 weeks, and was opened as a promise by then health and social care secretary Steve Barclay to the RCN during 2023-24 pay negotiations.

Ms Cullen said: “Let’s open the biggest public and political conversation about the value of nursing and tell the sceptics why nursing is unique, why patients need us and how we know why we deserve better.

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“It should never be the case that to get on in your nursing career, you are forced to move away from delivering clinical care.

“It should never be the case that you finish your nursing career on the same salary band as you started.

“You should never amass decades of experience but see no recognition of it in your salary.”

This call for thoughts by RCN members was made as pay negotiations are due to restart between the British Medical Association (BMA)’s junior doctors and the UK Government and after it was revealed at the end of last year that the 2024-25 Agenda for Change pay deal would be delayed.

Ms Cullen claimed Agenda for Change had “lost sight of our value”,  and continued: “After 20 years, three-quarters of our members are on the two lowest pay bands possible for registered professionals.

“We are weighted to the bottom of the pay and grading structure without a clear route through.

“I want the career pathway for nursing to be smashed wide open.”

She continued that, under the current system, the knowledge and “excellence” of nursing professionals were not recognised, and that the issue impacted nurses on all of the current Agenda for Change bands.

Ms Cullen further said: “Nursing staff are safety critical. Services should not run without us. But today’s poor understanding of our value leaves record jobs unfilled.

“Investment in nursing is investment in our population’s health. It is sound economics and what’s best for patients.

“Nursing is not a calling. Or a vocation. Or ‘women’s work’. We are a profession; we are experts; we are leaders. There is an art and a science to what we do.  

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“In 2024, nursing roles are held in high regard by patients and service users, but politicians are yet to catch up.  

“Nursing needs a seismic shift and a new place in health care.” 

In response to Ms Cullen’s comments, a spokesperson for the Department of Health and Social Care said: “We hugely value NHS nurses and the outstanding care they provide to patients, which is why we provided a 5% pay rise and two significant one-off awards [in 2023-24] – worth over £2,000 on average for full-time nurses.

“This deal, which the Royal College of Nursing recommended its members accept, also included a number of commitments to deliver a series of reforms to improve working conditions.

“We have recruited more than 50,000 extra nurses compared to 2019 – hitting our target early – and the [NHS] Long-Term Workforce plan will double the number of adult nursing training places by 2031.”

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