One branded it “inept”, another “unacceptable” and a third said it was “pathetic” and risked damaging the Government’s standing on its support for the health service.
Less than 24 hours after the row erupted, health minister Nadine Dorries this morning opened the door to possibly increasing the proposed salary award.
Former nurse Ms Dorries insisted that the pay rise for health workers, who have been hailed as heroes as they led the battle against Covid-19, was what the Government could afford given the shattered public finances.
But she then suggested that ministers might “move” from this position after a pay review body makes its recommendation following talks with health unions and other NHS groups. Nurses took to the airwaves this morning to vent their fury at the offer, which some branded an “insult”.
Some Tory MPs also piled pressure on Chancellor Rishi Sunak to allocate more funding to NHS salaries.
Former health minister Dr Dan Poulter MP, who as a doctor has been working on the frontline in a central London hospital during the pandemic, told The Standard: “I very much hope that the Government very quickly rethinks this.
“There is a strong moral case for rethinking the current recommendation made to the pay review bodies.
“And there is a strong economic case as well because we have seen that below inflationary pay settlements only serve to push staff to work for agencies which is more expensive in the long run and has recently cost the NHS £5 billion a year.”
The Conservative MP for Central Suffolk and North Ipswich believes the Government should consider an inflation-matching pay rise and a one-off payment of at least two per cent of salary to recognise the extraordinary work done by NHS staff in the last year.
Former minister Andrew Percy, MP for Brigg and Goole, said the proposed rise was “unacceptable”. He told the Standard: “Ministers must act to provide a more generous award.”
Tory backbencher Sir Roger Gale was more outspoken, accusing the Government of acting in an “inept” way. He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “I think more is needed. I think the way that this has been presented and handled has been inept. We are facing exceptional circumstances and yes, I know, that over a period of three years nurses have had a considerable pay increase, but that is not what I think the public wants in terms of recognition of a wholly exceptional situation.”
Another former Conservative minister said: “It’s a pathetic figure. It’s bad politics and it undermines everything that we have tried to do in terms of supporting the health service.
“My worry is it’s going to end up being our Gordon Brown 10p moment,” a reference to the former premier’s highly controversial decision to abolish the 10p starting rate of income tax.
The Government argues that more than one million NHS staff will continue to benefit from multi-year pay deals agreed with trade unions, which have delivered a pay rise of more than 12 per cent for newly-qualified nurses and will increase junior doctors’ pay scales by 8.2 per cent.
It also emphasised that pay rises for workers in the rest of the public sector will be frozen this year due to the “challenging economic environment”.
In his Budget on Wednesday, Mr Sunak laid out the scale of the crisis into which Britain has been plunged by the Covid epidemic, stating that it will take decades to pay off the debt built up as the Government took unprecedented action to protect jobs and businesses.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the proposed rise for NHS staff was being put forward on the basis of “affordability”.
Speaking at the Downing Street press conference on Friday evening, he hailed the “incredible” work of NHS staff but said the coronavirus pandemic had brought “financial consequences” for the country.
Mr Hancock said: “The evidence that was put forward yesterday was on the basis of affordability.”
He added: “We’ve proposed what we think is affordable to make sure that in the NHS people do get a pay rise and I think it is fair to take into account all the considerations, the incredible hard work of those in the NHS, which means they are not part of the overall public sector pay freeze and also what’s affordable as a nation.”
During a media round this morning, Ms Dorries hinted that the Government could yet increase the proposed offer.
She told Sky News: “The one per cent offer is the most we think we can afford, which we have put forward to the pay review body. That will be discussed, and then we will wait for feedback from unions and other health sector stakeholders, and see where we move to on this, but the one per cent is what the Government can afford.”
She added that ministers recognised the “sacrifice, commitment and vocation” of health workers.
But shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth said: “If ministers claim this is just the start of the process they should give NHS staff a cast iron assurance they will honour the recommendations of the pay review body.”
Unions representing workers ranging from nurses and doctors to porters and ambulance crews were furious at the suggestion of a below-inflation pay rise, which will be considered by the review body in May.
Rachel Harrison, national officer of the GMB union, said: “NHS workers are furious at the Government’s recommendation of a one per cent pay increase, published in their evidence to the PRB late yesterday afternoon — six weeks late. Ministers have followed this with an even more contemptuous defence of the paltry increase — essentially saying: ‘It’s better than nothing.’”
The rise would cover nearly all hospital staff but not GPs and dentists. Mel, a staff nurse, said the proposed rise was an “insult” and “hypocrisy in its greatest form”. She said the increase for her would equate to an extra £3.50 a week. “I am angry beyond words,” she added.