Watch: 1% pay rise for NHS staff 'the most' the government can afford
Health minister Nadine Dorries has defended the £6 a week pay rise for nurses, saying it is all the government can afford, despite spending £37bn on the failing test and trace scheme.
Dorries gave a series of interviews on Friday defending the government's 1% pay rise for nurses and other health workers, amid outrage from many in the health sector.
She said the increase — which works out at £6 a week for the average nurse's salary of £34,000— that has been put forward to the sector’s pay review body (PRB) was "the most we think we can afford", adding that nurses had received a 12% increase in pay over the last three years and the average salary stands at around £34,000.
Critics have pointed out that the NHS Test and Trace system, which in December was told by the government's spending watchdog that it must improve, has so far cost some £37bn.
A National Audit Office (NAO) report found that the system — promised by the government to be "world beating" — was failing to meet its objectives, delivering results too slowly and finding too few contacts of those who tested positive.
Questioned by Nick Ferrari on LBC, Dorries said: "A year ago this week we were looking in the face of a global pandemic and our priorities were about saving lives and protecting the NHS.
"That money that you have just spoken about which was spent on test and trace was about doing just that. That was a priority of saving lives.
"Now that we are hopefully coming out of the pandemic our priority has to be about saving people's jobs and people's livelihoods. And that is where our priorities in terms of funding has to be."
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Unions have branded the proposed increase "contemptuous" and "pitiful" while one nurse called it an “insult” and “hypocrisy in its greatest form”.
The staff nurse, who gave her name as Mel, said the increase for her would equate to an extra £3.50 a week.
“It really isn’t true remuneration for the real-time pay cut that we have seen over the last decade,” she said.
“We have healthcare staff using foodbanks, so £3.50 is not going to improve their situation in any way, shape or form.
“I am angry beyond words, both for myself (and) for my colleagues, who I see struggle daily.”
Royal College of Nursing general secretary Dame Donna Kinnair said: “This is pitiful and bitterly disappointing. The government is dangerously out of touch with nursing staff, NHS workers and the public.
“If the Pay Review Body accepts the government view, a pay award as poor as this would amount to only an extra £3.50 per week take-home pay for an experienced nurse. Nobody would think that is fair in the middle of a pandemic and it will do nothing to prevent the exodus from nursing.”
Rachel Harrison, national officer of the GMB union, said: “NHS workers are furious at the government’s recommendation of 1% 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.’
“It’s dismissive and insulting to NHS workers who have had an incredibly tough year keeping us all safe."
Downing Street has defended the proposed 1% pay rise for NHS staff, saying it was what was “affordable”.
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “We recognise the impact COVID has had on the NHS and we want to honour this.
“But the pandemic has real consequences and we have done all that we can to protect jobs and save livelihoods.
“The recommended 1% pay rise for NHS staff is what is affordable while acknowledging their work and commitment over the last 12 months.”
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