The government has offered a 3% pay increase to nurses and other NHS workers in England “in recognition of the unique impact of the pandemic” on staff.
It follows heavily criticized proposals made by the Department of Health and Social Care in March, which stated that only a 1% increase was affordable. The Welsh government will offer a 3% pay increase to all NHS staff in Wales. However, some healthcare unions objected to the new figure, claiming that it does not reflect the sacrifices made by employees. They point out that the NHS workforce has been put under unprecedented strain.
The British Medical Association (BMA), which represents doctors, said the pay increase was disappointing and that junior doctors and some general practitioners might miss out entirely.
The British Medical Association’s Dr. Chaand Nagpaul stated that many doctors had not taken annual leave in the previous year and now “face a grueling year ahead with millions of patients on waiting lists and the country amid another Covid-19 wave.” Labour’s shadow health minister, Justin Madders, called the pay increase a “U-turn” and urged the government to “make our NHS and key workers feel supported and valued after all they have done for us.”
The pay increase for healthcare workers comes after the government announced a public sector pay freeze for 2021-22 in November, with exceptions for those earning less than £24,000 and NHS staff. The 3% pay increase is retroactive to April 2021 for most NHS employees, including nurses, paramedics, consultants, dentists, and salaried GPs. According to government estimates, the average nurse will receive an extra £1,000 per year, while many porters and cleaners will receive around £540.
“NHS staff are rightly receiving a pay rise this year, despite the wider public sector pay pause, in recognition of their extraordinary efforts,” Health and Social Care Secretary Sajid Javid said.
“We will support the NHS as we focus our efforts on overcoming this pandemic and addressing the backlog of other health problems that have accumulated.”
NHS pay increases are negotiated by independent pay-review bodies, which consider evidence from various groups before making recommendations to the government. The pay increase does not apply to doctors and dentists in training, who have separate multi-year contracts. It was a frustrating day for health unions and their members. The details were widely expected to be revealed in a health minister’s statement to the Commons at lunchtime.
However, MPs were informed that the government was still considering the recommendations of the pay review body. The announcement came at 18:00 BST, implying a frantic afternoon of finalizing the agreement with the prime minister, chancellor, and health secretary all isolating themselves.
The reaction of the unions has been mixed, with one group acknowledging that ministers had made a significant step up from the initial 1% offer. Others, however, argued that the 3% on the table was insufficient recognition of the enormous effort put in by NHS staff during the pandemic.
The details will be distributed to union members in the coming weeks, and it will be difficult to predict how they will be received at a time when pressure on the healthcare system is increasing due to another Covid surge.
Before the announcement, members of the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) gathered in Westminster with placards and banners demanding a 12.5 percent pay increase.
Kafeelat Adekunle, 55, a community matron with Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust in London, described the pay increase as “mad.”
“I’m not happy,” she told the PA news agency. “They’re not listening, that’s the whole problem. This is just to try and stop us from doing industrial action, just to keep us quiet, keep us shushed.”
“Morale is extremely low, there are a lot of people leaving the NHS and a lot of people leaving the health sector more broadly,” Amy Fancourt, an A&E nurse, and RCN member, told the BBC. “And I believe that is a direct result of years of undervaluation, on top of the additional pressure we faced during the pandemic.”
Unison general secretary Christina McAnea said the raise, while better than the initial offer, fell short of what NHS workers deserved.
“The government has failed to demonstrate to staff how much they are valued by all of us,” she said, warning that some staff may now leave the health service.
Unite national officer for health, Colenzo Jarrett-Thorpe, described the 3% offer as a “small step forward on the insulting 1% the government offered in March”.
“However, this recommendation in no way recognizes the 19% drop in real earnings that many NHS workers have endured in the last decade, nor the immense sacrifices that health staff have and are continuing to make as Covid infection rates rapidly rise again.” The announcement was “light on detail,” according to RCN chief executive Pat Cullen, and nursing staff would “remain dignified in responding to what will be a bitter blow to many.”
“But the profession will not take this lying down,” she warned. Mike Henley, a member of the British Medical Association’s consultants committee, told the BBC: “We are dissatisfied. We needed more than 5% to compensate for our one-third pay cut since 2008, so 3% is a long way down “a lot lower.”
The government will have considered the impact of the pandemic on both the economy and the NHS when making final pay decisions.
Currently, staffing costs account for nearly half of the NHS budget, amounting to £56.1 billion.
In theory, pay-review bodies make recommendations for NHS staff across the UK, but it is up to individual UK nations to accept them.
Health Minister Eluned Morgan of Wales said the 3% increase “recognizes the dedication and commitment of hardworking NHS staff.”
In Scotland, the majority of NHS employees have already been offered a 4% pay increase (backdated to December 2020). This follows a £500 one-time Covid payment for health and social care staff.