A group of 14 unions representing nurses and other healthcare staff has demanded “decisive action” from the government to address staffing issues in the NHS, including a “meaningful” pay deal.
The unions asked that the UK Government ensured the 2024-25 offer for NHS workers was a substantial improvement on the current state of pay to combat inflation and the rising cost of living.
“An above-inflation pay rise would help recruit and retain the staff the NHS desperately needs”
They wanted a “clear timetable” in which the “falling value” of NHS pay scales would be addressed, and for a funding strategy to be implemented for the NHS Long Term Workforce Plan.
In addition, they asked for “barriers” impeding career progression to be lifted and for action to make sure every health worker is in the right band for their level of skill and responsbility.
These measures would also improve retention, noted the unions, whose recommendations are listed in a new reported titled ‘Supporting UK’s Economic Growth: The Case for NHS Pay’.
The report is backed by 14 unions which represent staff under Agenda for Change, including Unison, the Royal College of Nursing (RCN), the Royal College of Midwives (RCM) and Unite.
They argued investment in pay was “critical infrastructure” for the country and laid out evidence that improving the pay offer would be beneficial for the economy.
The report was published ahead of the deadline for the next Agenda for Change pay offer on 1 April, which will likely be missed as the process was started late.
Acting head of health for Unison, Helga Pile, who chairs the group of NHS unions, said the recommendations in the report made “economic sense”, as well as being likely to improve care for patients.
“There’s a clear link between rising waiting lists and the staffing emergency being felt in every part of the NHS in England,” said Ms Pile.
“Investing in pay and improving working conditions are the ways to keep experienced employees in their jobs and attract new recruits.
“In turn that means patients are more likely to get the care they need and get it more quickly.”
Ms Pile said, regarding the economic incentives of improving pay for healthcare workers: “When health workers have more money in their pockets, they tend to spend it on their local high streets, supporting local businesses.
“And if the NHS had more staff, it would be able to treat a larger number of people. Falling sickness rates would enable the wider workforce to grow and economic benefits to flow across the country.”
Elaine Sparkes, secretary of the group of unions and assistant director of employment relations for the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy, added: “NHS staff need an above-inflation pay rise to begin to address the years of cuts that have had such a detrimental effect, especially during the cost-of-living crisis.
“The lack of fair pay has also exacerbated the workforce crisis at a time when the NHS can least afford to be so short of staff.
“An above-inflation pay rise would help recruit and retain the staff the NHS desperately needs. If the government wants to make a dent in the record waiting lists, then ministers must listen to the staff who know the NHS best.”
As well as backing the recommendations of this report, Unison earlier this week announced it had written to secretary of state for health and social care Victoria Atkins to ask for direct pay talks.
This letter to Ms Atkins laid out similar arguments in support of an increased pay offer to those in the group of unions’ report.
The union said it had sent this letter instead of submitting evidence to the NHS Pay Review Body (PRB), which makes recommendations to the government on changes to the pay rates for staff in the health service.
Unison explained that this was done because the PRB process “takes too long”, is not independent enough and is not fit for purpose.
This sentiment was shared by other health unions, who announced they too were boycotting the PRB.
Ms Pile said: “There’s a staffing emergency across every part of the NHS in England. There are simply too few health workers to meet increasing demand. That leaves staff stretched ever more thinly as they try desperately to deliver quality care to patients.
“It took many days of strikes to get last year’s pay rise agreed, but since then inflation has failed to fall as far, or as fast, as experts predicted.
“With the lump sums that helped settle the dispute no longer part of their pay packets, health workers now think they got a raw deal and will expect a better settlement in 2024.
“As it stands, NHS staff on the lowest pay band will be earning just a penny an hour above the minimum wage when it rises in April and their salaries are well short of the real living wage.”
Unison also said it wanted other changes to NHS staff contracts, namely shorter working weeks and annual reviews to ensure people are being paid the correct rates for their jobs.