The proposed pay rise for doctors, nurses and more than a million other health service staff – pushed to the limit during the Covid crisis – has been branded “pitiful” and “the worst kind of insult” by Labour and the health unions.
Asked on BBC Breakfast for her reaction to the news, Ms Dorries said: “I was actually surprised because I knew that we’d frozen public-sector pay, that no-one in the public sector was receiving a pay rise, so I was pleasantly surprised that we were making an offer.”
Questioned on whether people would still be signing up to work for the NHS in light of the proposed rise, the minister said: “I believe nurses are about more than superficial soundbites, I think nurses love their job. They do their job because they love their job.”
She added: “I was a nurse myself ... I became a nurse because I loved nursing. I hope that those nurses who love their jobs too will stay in the NHS and stick with us through what is a difficult time.”
The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) revealed its plans for increasing the pay of 1.4 million NHS staff on Thursday. The government has argued that a pay rise of more than 1 per cent could lead to trade-offs in other areas of NHS spending.
But health unions have demanded a 12.5 per cent uplift in pay in recognition of the efforts of staff during the coronavirus pandemic, and as a counter to years of austerity that has seen the value of NHS salaries fall in real terms.
A leading union has warned of potential strike action amid the mounting anger. Unite said it will now consider all options – including holding an industrial action ballot – as part of its campaign for a decent pay rise.
Describing the 1 per cent rise proposal as “pay cut in real terms”, Unite’s national officer for health Colenzo Jarrett-Thorpe said: “It shows an unyielding contempt by ministers for those who have done so much to care for tens of thousands of Covid-19 patients in the last year.”
The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) said it was setting up a £35m industrial action fund in response to the recommended pay rise. The RCN’s chief executive Dame Donna Kinnair claimed ministers were “dangerously out of touch with nursing staff, NHS workers and the public”.
Labour’s shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth said an increase of just 1 per cent increase was “the ultimate kick in teeth to our NHS heroes” during the pandemic.
“It’s shocking, it’s disgusting, it’s appalling,” he told the BBC, arguing it would effectively be a “pay cut” given expected levels of inflation.
He added: “It was so cowardly of Rishi Sunak to not announce this in his Budget – to let it sneak out in the small print. He posts pictures of himself clapping for NHS staff, but when it came to it he’s cutting their wages. That’s appalling.”
Labour leader Keir Starmer said on Friday morning that the government’s recommendation of a 1 per cent pay rise was a “real insult”.
He told reporters: “It is not good enough just to clap them: this is a real insult. They need to be properly recognised and properly rewarded.
“The prime minister tries to take credit for the vaccine rollout whilst cutting the pay of those who are actually delivering it – it’s insulting.”
Asked what he would do in Mr Johnson’s place, Mr Starmer said: “There’s an independent process that needs to be gone through but I’m absolutely clear they deserve a pay rise and a fair pay rise above inflation.
“If I was prime minister I would be recognising and rewarding those on the front line in the NHS by giving them a pay rise.”
Despite the chancellor Rishi Sunak spending an extra £65bn on Covid support measures in the Budget, the government appears determined to stick to its pre-Covid spending plan for day-to-day NHS spending.
Defending the spending decisions, Ms Dorries claimed nurses had received a 12 per cent increase in pay over the last three years and said the average nurse’s salary is around £34,000.
“Everybody in an ideal world would love to see nurses paid far more, in an ideal world, but we are coming out of a pandemic where we have seen huge borrowing and costs to the government,” the minister for mental health told Sky News.
The Tory minister also insisted there would be “no cuts” to NHS budgets on frontline services.
Budget documents revealed there is a planned cut of £30bn in day-to-day spending at the Department for Health and Social Care from April of this year, falling from £199.2bn to £169.1bn.
Ms Dorries argued the reduction was related to extra money pumped into to deal with the Covid crisis. “That £30bn, I believe, was a reduction on the pandemic spending – there are actually real-time increases going into the NHS budget year on year.”
She added: “There are absolutely no cuts moving forward to frontline NHS services either in waiting lists, accident and emergency. There are just no cuts moving forward – there are real-time increases going into the NHS budget.”