The Royal College of Nursing has told the Independent Pay Review Body ‘Goodwill cannot last indefinitely’.
After seven years of pay restraint, nursing staff across the UK have been left angry and demoralised. This disaffection has resulted in severe nursing shortages, with 40,000 posts vacant in England alone. Unless nursing staff are given a pay award at least in line with inflation, the exodus of staff will continue, and nursing will become less and less attractive as a career.
That’s the message from the Royal College of Nursing in its written evidence to the independent NHS Pay Review Body (PRB). The PRB will make recommendations to Health Ministers in the spring on next year’s pay award for NHS staff.
The RCN, along with the other 13 NHS staff trade unions, is calling on the Review Body to recommend a pay rise at least in line with Retail Price Index (RPI) inflation, plus a £800 flat rate increase for all Agenda for Change staff to make up for lost earnings over the last seven years. Pay was first frozen for nursing and other NHS staff for two years from 2010, then salary increases limited to 1% from 2013 until this year.
The RCN submission highlights that as a result of this pay restraint, wages for nursing staff have fallen far behind the cost of living since 2010. While the RPI has grown by 20% and the Consumer Price Index (CPI) by 14% over this period, annual earnings (which include basic pay, overtime, shift pay and geographical allowances such as London Weighting) for Band 5 staff nurses have only increased by 6.1% over the seven years. The average nurse in this category is now earning around £2,500 a year less than they would have been had their wages kept pace with inflation.
The College’s evidence also argues that any increases in pay should not be linked to ‘productivity improvements’, as both the Chancellor and Health Secretary have suggested, and points out that it would be difficult for individual staff to be any more ‘productive’ when so many are already working extra hours without pay, working through their breaks and staying on after their shift has ended. However, the submission outlines a number of barriers to productivity gains which nurses themselves have highlighted, such as:
- With the NHS short of 40,000 nurses in England alone, the pressure and pace of work are leading many older nursing staff to take early retirement – this is a huge loss of valuable skills and experience.
- Lack of clinical opportunities for experienced nurses (Band 7 and above) means that many feel they are forced into managerial roles when they would prefer to continue working with patients – again, this is prompting some staff to leave.
- Many staff also point to the scale and complexity of paperwork they have to contend with as a barrier to improving productivity and patient care.
These comments were typical of those received from nurses in connection with the pay claim:
“We feel insulted by the 1% pay rise. If we weren’t so close-knit, morale would be much lower. No wonder we can’t recruit people into nursing, the Government doesn’t respect the role or us” - Band 6 Charge Nurse, Scotland.
“They are relying on our goodwill – but it’s about to break” - Band 5 Staff Nurse, London
Commenting on the College’s evidence, Janet Davies, RCN Chief Executive and General Secretary, said:
“RCN members led the campaign to scrap the longstanding 1% cap on nursing pay increases, and were pleased when it was abandoned by the Government in October. However, after seven years in which their wages have lagged far behind the cost of living, nursing staff are now looking for a meaningful pay rise at least in line with inflation. Instead they have heard equivocal messages from the Government about linking any future salary increases to productivity. This has generated anger and confusion among the nursing workforce.
“The NHS has been running on the goodwill of nursing and other staff for far too long. This goodwill cannot last indefinitely, and we look to the Pay Review Body to make a recommendation which both acknowledges the sacrifices made by NHS staff, and the economic necessity of a meaningful pay rise. With at least 40,000 nursing posts currently vacant in England alone, the NHS cannot afford to haemorrhage any more nursing staff”.
The Independent pay review body will submit its report to the government in March 2018.