Nurses work the equivalent of one day a week for free, according to a new analysis of pay.
Researchers from London Economics, commissioned by the Royal College of Nursing, looked at pay in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland since 2010.
They found that in real terms, based on a five-day week, the salary of an experienced nurse has fallen by 20%.
A pay rise would help save NHS money because of how expensive it is to hire staff internationally, which is currently the main recruitment method adopted by the Government, according to the analysis.
Dr Gavan Conlon, who oversaw the research, said bringing in staff from overseas costs approximately £16,900 more annually than retaining a nurse, while using agency workers is around £21,300 more per year.
Around 32,000 nurses are quitting the NHS per year at least in part because of the erosion of living standards, leaving tens of thousands of vacancies, he said.
NHS waiting lists have, in turn, been one of the main factors driving economic inactivity, with 700,000 individuals leaving the workforce since the beginning of the pandemic.
“The high costs of staff turnover suggest that staff retention is a cost-effective policy for the NHS,” Dr Conlon said.
He said the research suggested “the economy is on its knees and will never get off its knees until we pay nurses more”.
Experienced nurses across England, Wales and Northern Ireland would need to receive a nominal pay rise of 45% by 2024-25 to restore their real-terms salaries to 2010-2011 levels, according to the research.
The RCN is currently balloting on strike action, with around 300,000 members being asked if they are prepared to walk out.
Our biggest ever strike ballot is now open. We’re encouraging eligible members across the UK to vote ‘yes’ to strike action and fight for safe staffing. Read more: https://t.co/yiLjWz2bIO #FairPayForNursing pic.twitter.com/prOSCKfMZ9
— The RCN (@theRCN) October 6, 2022
The union is arguing for higher pay and immediate action to tackle hundreds of thousands of nursing vacancies across the country.
RCN general secretary Pat Cullen has said the Government’s offer of a 3% wage rise “makes a difference to a nurse’s wage of 72p an hour”.
But former health secretary Therese Coffey said she is confident nurses will not get a higher pay offer.
Midwives are also being urged to vote in favour of strike action in a ballot that starts on November 11 for a period of four weeks.
Health workers in other trade unions are also being balloted for industrial action over pay.
Unison is asking 350,000 NHS staff in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, including porters, nurses, paramedics and cleaners, to vote in favour of walking out.
A ballot of its 50,000 members in Scotland, which was already under way, has been suspended after a new pay offer.
Mrs Cullen added: “This exploitation of nursing staff cannot be tolerated any longer.
“In the pandemic, the politicians urged the public to clap for carers, but now they are wilfully ignoring nursing’s astonishing efforts and expertise.
“Ministers have stubbornly resisted the requirement to address the workforce crisis, including paying nursing fairly, instead rejecting any opportunity to act. They have taken advantage of nursing’s goodwill and steadfast determination to act in the interests of their patients.
“Our members have had enough. Expecting nursing staff to work one day a week for free is totally unacceptable.
“Patients deserve better from their politicians. Despite nursing staff working increasingly long hours and doing all they can, safe and effective care is being undermined by the failure of governments to act.”
Polling of more than 1,700 members of the public for the RCN shows 46% say they have avoided using NHS services in the last 12 months, citing long waits (50%) and the level of pressure on the NHS (42%) as main worries.
The London Economics research looked at the pay of workers under the Agenda for Change contract.
Figures looked at by the RCN show there are a record 47,000 unfilled registered nurse posts in England alone.