Health minister Nadine Dorries has been left to defend the government’s decision to give a 1% pay rise to nurses and other health workers, following the revelation that the figure has been submitted to the sector’s pay review body (PRB).
She gave a series of media interviews on Friday defending the government’s position, saying nurses have received a 12% increase in pay over the last three years and 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,” she told Sky.
“I think it is important to note that the priority of the government has been about protecting people’s livelihoods, about continuing the furlough scheme, about fighting the pandemic, and we’ve put huge effort into that.
“We do not want nurses to go unrecognised – or doctors – and no other public sector employee is receiving a pay rise, there has been a pay freeze.
“But the 1% offer is the most we think we can afford which we have put forward to the pay review body.”
The health minister also insisted there would be “no cuts” to NHS budgets going forward, despite Labour finding a £30bn cut to day-to-day spending in the latest budget.
Unions representing workers ranging from nurses and doctors to porters and ambulance crews were furious at the suggestion of a below-inflation pay rise, which will be considered by the review body in May.
Rachel Harrison, national officer of the GMB union, was left angered by the announcement.
She told the PA News Agency: “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.
“GMB members working in the NHS have had the toughest year – cleaners, porters, nurses, paramedics – all deserve pay justice.
“A 1% rise for our key workers is less than nothing in real terms – predicted inflation this year is forecast to be 1.5% (CPI) or 2.5% (RPI), meaning that a 1% pay rise would in fact amount to real terms pay cut.
“That’s why GMB’s pay submission is for a return of a decade of real terms pay losses – 15% or £2 per hour, whichever is the greatest.
“GMB is calling on the PRB to disregard the government’s evidence and finally show NHS key workers the respect and value they have earned.”
Labour said evidence to the NHS Pay Review Body from the Health Department was a “callous and an enormous slap in the face” for workers.
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.”
A government spokesman said: “Over one million NHS staff continue to benefit from multi-year pay deals agreed with trade unions, which have delivered a pay rise of over 12% for newly-qualified nurses and will increase junior doctors’ pay scales by 8.2%.
“Pay rises in the rest of the public sector will be paused this year due to the challenging economic environment, but we will continue to provide pay rises for NHS workers, on top of a £513 million investment in professional development and increased recruitment.
“That’s with record numbers of doctors and 10,600 more nurses working in our NHS, and with nursing university applications up by over a third.
“The independent pay review bodies will report in late spring and we will consider their recommendations carefully when we receive them.”