Give NHS workers pay rise by Christmas, unions tell Boris Johnson

Elliot Chappell

14 health unions have urged the Prime Minister to award NHS staff with an early pay rise ahead of Christmas this year to ensure that health workers “feel valued by the entire country, and the government too”.

In a letter sent last week, 14 health unions including UNISON, Unite and GMB have warned that health workers are “stressed, burned out and fearful” and that asking them to carry on in the pandemic regardless is “increasingly unrealistic”.

NHS employees are due a pay rise in April 2021 but the group of organisations has argued that an early pay bump is the “right decision to take” in light of the extreme conditions they have faced working in the coronavirus crisis.

Commenting on the challenges NHS staff have faced in recent months, head of health at UNISON Sara Gorton said: “The NHS can’t run without its staff. They all deserve better from porters to nurses.

“Their dedication during the pandemic has been humbling. But no one is superhuman and many are feeling the strain. Boris Johnson must show he has a heart with a pay rise before Christmas.

“It will boost exhausted staff going into the second wave and help the NHS attract much-needed new recruits.”

The unions have argued in their letter that the increase in pay could persuade those looking to leave the health service to stay, and added that it would “prove attractive to thousands of much-needed potential NHS recruits”.

A survey by the Royal College of Nursing showed that 36% of NHS nurses were considering leaving, compared to 28% before the pandemic. A parliamentary committee report in September showed that there are 40,000 nursing vacancies.

Commenting on pay levels for health service workers, Hannah Reed from the Royal College of Nursing said today: “NHS staff have been underpaid for years and there has never been a more critical time for the government to address this.

“Paying staff fairly will show they’re valued and begin to turn the corner on the record nursing and wider vacancy levels.

“The NHS is facing an extremely challenging few months due to the combination of Covid-19 and winter pressures. Without urgent action on pay, vacancies across the NHS will continue to increase.”

The unions wrote that NHS staff are “exhausted” and warned that many are still recovering from the first peak of Covid cases. Their call comes shortly after England entered its second lockdown following reports the NHS could be overwhelmed.

Executive director of external relations at the Royal College of Midwives Jon Skewes argued: “Midwives, maternity support workers and all our NHS staff do an incredible job day in, day out, 365 days a year, 24 hours a day.

“And never has that been more apparent, more needed, or more valued than now. There was a compelling case for an early and significant pay rise for NHS staff before the pandemic, and their dedication, commitment and professionalism make that a cast-iron one now.

“I call on the Prime Minister to show that he meant his fine words about the work of our NHS staff during the first wave of the pandemic and give them the pay award they rightly deserve.”

Earlier this year, thousands of NHS workers protested across the UK calling for fair pay for NHS staff and true recognition of their work during the pandemic after the government announced a pay rise for doctors in July.

The Chancellor had announced a pay increase of up to 3.1% for public sector workers including doctors, teachers and police officers – but social care workers, nurses and others were left out of the new offer.

Labour criticised the Tories for lacking “long-term thinking and strategy” in their approach to health workers in September, arguing that the committee’s recent report confirms that scrapping the nurse training bursary was a “disaster”.

Bursaries for student nurses were scrapped as part of the Conservatives’ austerity measures in 2017. Trade union UNISON’s Christine McAnea warned at the time that the move would leave the NHS “seriously short of nurses”.

Labour previously accused the Prime Minister of “deceit” over a nursing recruitment promise after it was revealed that his manifesto pledge to provide 50,000 more nurses included the retention of 18,500 nurses already working for the NHS.

According to polling by Savanta Comres in July, 69% of the British public said that all NHS staff should get an early pay rise before the end of the year with just one in ten believing they should wait until April 2021 for a rise.

Below is the full text of the letter.

Dear Prime Minister,

You will be all too aware that tough times lie ahead for the NHS and the nation.

Winter’s here, Covid-19 rates are rising fast again, and hospitals are admitting more infected patients than before restrictions were announced in March.

With a second wave upon us, intensive care units are under immense strain, with some rapidly nearing full capacity, and the Nightingale hospitals are on standby.

Once more NHS staff will be relied upon to protect and care for us all. But health workers are exhausted, with many still recovering from the first virus peak. They’re anxious too, especially as they know what’s coming this time. 

There’s also the added pressure of treating non-Covid patients from the backlog of cancelled appointments and operations from earlier in the year. They feel stressed, burned out and fearful. It is increasingly unrealistic to ask them to carry on regardless.

As you know, NHS staff are due a pay rise in April. But if ever there was a time for their dedication and skill to be appreciated – and that increase to come early – it’s now. A significant increase this year would help health workers feel valued, by the entire country, and the government too. But bringing forward the wage rise in time for Christmas would also place the NHS in a better position to face the future.  

The pandemic has affected staff profoundly and many may not stay around when the job is done. Raising pay this year could persuade them to change their minds and prove attractive to thousands of much-needed potential NHS recruits. The Scottish government has already made this commitment.

NHS staff are not simply motivated by pay. They do their jobs because they’re passionate about making people well again, and because they want to make a difference.

Times may be tough, but you know morally this is the right decision to take. As you said at the Daily Mirror’s Pride of Britain awards last weekend, NHS workers are the “beating heart of the nation”. It’s time to do more than praise their courage and dedication. Grant them – and the NHS – the early pay increase they all deserve. 

Yours sincerely,

Sara Gorton
Hannah Reed
Jon Skewes

Below is the full list of unions backing the call.

British Association of Occupational Therapists
British Dietetic Association
British Orthoptic Society
Chartered Society of Physiotherapy
College of Podiatry
Federation of Clinical Scientists
Managers in Partnership
Prison Officers Association
Royal College of Midwives
Royal College of Nursing
Society of Radiographers

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