Remember when we turned out on our doorsteps every Thursday evening to clap doctors and nurses? How foolish that we didn’t appreciate there was a price to be paid. We elevated the medical profession onto such a moral high ground that it just can’t stop asking for more money. NHS consultants, who have already had a pay rise of 6 per cent this year, are voting on a further pay deal which would give some of them a further pay rise of 13 per cent.
This is at a time when NHS productivity is slipping. According to an analysis by the Institute for Fiscal Studies there are now 15.8 per cent more consultants than in 2019, 24.6 per cent more junior doctors and 19.5 per cent more nurses and health visitors. Yet the number of emergency hospital admissions is down 4.3 per cent, non-emergency admissions down 1.3 per cent, while the number of outpatient appointments is up a modest 1.8 per cent.
Yet the people who are angriest about the consultants’ latest pay rise may not be the taxpayers – it is nurses’ unions, on the grounds that they didn’t get quite such a big pay rise. Chief Nurse at the Royal College of Nursing, Professor Nicola Ranger, says nurses will be “ignited” with fury that consultants are getting so much when they only got 5 per cent plus a lump sum of at least £1,655. “The Government has shown it has the political will to reform pay for some of the highest earners in the NHS, while our members are left with the lowest pay rise in the public sector”. You may well have some sympathy with their position, but this is how inflationary spirals begin, with groups of workers endlessly chasing each other’s pay upwards. And it underscores the problems with politicised pay: there will always be some groups left feeling aggrieved.
Everyone appreciates doctors and nurses, of course, and no-one is saying that most of them do not put in an honest day’s work. Many go beyond that, no doubt, and show dedication to their patients beyond duty. Yet, back in the real world taxes – as a share of GDP – are at their highest since the 1940s. It is costing over £100 billion this year for the Government to pay the interest on its debts. Productivity across all public services, not just the NHS, is no higher than it was a quarter of a century ago.
In contrast to private sector workers who have seen the value of their pension funds decline this year, most NHS staff are on defined benefit pension schemes which are guaranteed to pay index-linked returns based on their final salary of lifetime earnings – a guarantee which imposes an open-ended burden on taxpayers. And yet still some consultants seem to think there is some burgeoning money pot which can be raided to give them an even fatter pay rise than the two they have just been offered – while the RCN is hinting that it, too, may well come back for more.
Rather than pushing for even more pay, perhaps it is time for doctors and nurses to come out on the doorsteps and give the private sector a clap for once. Please, please, we love what you do, but just show a little understanding of the financial straits in which the country finds itself.