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‘Absolutely wrong’: More unions join backlash over NHS 1% pay rise

Leah Sinclair
·4-min read

More unions have joined the backlash at the government’s much-criticised plan to give NHS staff a 1 per cent pay rise.

The British Medical Association, The BMA, the Royal College of Midwives, the Royal College of Nursing and Unison have written an open letter to chancellor Rishi Sunak to express their “dismay” at the pay increase.

The letter claims the rise “fails to provide staff who have been on the very frontline of the pandemic the fair pay deal they need”.

“The proposal of a 1 per cent pay offer, not announced from the despatch box but smuggled out quietly in the days afterwards, fails the test of both honesty and fails to provide staff who have been on the very frontline of the pandemic the fair pay deal they need,” the letter said.

“Our members are the doctors, nurses, midwives, porters, healthcare assistants and more, already exhausted and distressed, who are also expected to go on caring for the millions of patients on waiting lists, coping with a huge backlog of treatment as well as caring for those with Covid-19”.

Earlier this week the Department of Health and Social Care officially recommended the 1 per cent pay rise to the independent panel that advises the government on NHS salaries.

Ministers defended the proposal at a time when the economy was under “huge pressure” as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

Health secretary Matt Hancock also defended the pay increase, saying it was “what we think is affordable” at a press conference on Friday.

But health service unions denounced the proposed award as a “kick in the teeth” for staff who had given “absolutely everything” to keep the public safe.

Saffron Cordery, deputy chief executive of NHS Providers, told Radio 4’s Today programme on Saturday a pay rise for health staff had been “baked in” to spending assumptions for the NHS.

“We are really clear that the Government had already budgeted for a pay rise of 2.1 per cent, so what we are saying is, given where the NHS is at, given what frontline staff have been through, it seems absolutely wrong to take from their pocket right now a pay rise that was due to them,” she said.

Alex Norris, a Labour shadow health minister, said his party, if it were in government, would recommend a “real-terms increase in NHS pay” to the pay body and “let them come back and set the figure based on the calculations that they make”.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “I think we are in unprecedented circumstances. This will be a pay review like no other. We’ve been out on our doorsteps clapping, we’ve been saying we’re going to recognise and thank the incredible work that the NHS staff have done.

“So I think for us to then turn and say to the pay body we think those people deserve a pay rise, which they do, rather than what we’ve seen from the Government, which is clapping for one day and cutting their pay the next”.

Put to him that more nurses joined than left the profession last year, Mr Norris said the pandemic was “likely to have an impact on recruitment and retention that we are yet to truly understand”, with some set to leave after a challenging year.

He added: “Choosing actively when trying to balance the budget to take money from the NHS pay cut seems a very strange set of priorities to us”.

Sara Gorton, head of health at the Unison union, said if the Government sticks to its 1 per cent pay offer to health service workers it will “cause widespread industrial upset”.

“We wouldn’t be a very good trade union if we weren’t preparing for the worst outcome,” she told BBC Breakfast.

“What we need to focus on is the fact this is by no means a done deal.

“Unions and health workers all over the country are calling for the public to support them and show the Government there really is an appetite to support health workers to get something more significant in organising a slow hand clap on Thursday night in reaction to this news.

Ms Gorton added that all the trade unions have been working together to try to “persuade the Chancellor of the benefits this could bring economically”.

“It puts money into the pockets of people who live in every part of our country, every part of the UK – there isn’t a family I know who doesn’t have a friend or family member who works in the health service.

“We think putting money in the pockets of health service workers is a really good and sensible economic strategy”.

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