The chancellor’s spring statement, as feared, lacked any commitment to extra funding to enable an above-inflation increase in pay for hard-pressed NHS staff whose pay has suffered a decade of decline. 

The ministers and the Department of Health and Social Care hinted in February that any increase above 3% for NHS staff could lead to operations being cancelled, so tight is the cash squeeze imposed by Rishi Sunak. 

Government statements after the spring budget have also emphasised the need for “pay restraint” for NHS staff – as inflation soars towards 8% – leaving staff facing a further real-terms pay cut of around 5% – equivalent to £20 per week for staff on £20,000 and £30 per week for staff on £30,000.

In early February Bank of England boss Andrew Bailey, struggling by on just half a million per year,  triggered a storm of protest when he called for workers to show “restraint” rather than seek pay increases to at least keep pace with the rising rate of inflation.  But pay restraint does not prevent inflation, it just means that working people suffer its effects more severely.

Health workers’ pay has already been restrained – for over ten years. Last year the Health Foundation calculated that over the previous decade nurses and health visitors had suffered a real terms loss since 2011 of £1,583 on annual salary, midwives £1,813 and scientific and technical staff a massive £2949.

But as inflation has risen towards levels not seen since the 1980s, the government’s line has hardened, despite the obvious need for the NHS to improve its pay offer if it is to recruit to fill 110,000 vacancies, or even retain many of the staff it has.

A new UNISON survey of more than 9,000 health workers in England, found almost half (48%) are seriously considering leaving the NHS in the next year. Of those seriously considering leaving, three fifths (61%) are attracted by better pay, while one in five (21%) are looking for less-pressured working conditions. And around two thirds (68%) of NHS staff ​say they will look for other, better-paying work, if ​this year’s NHS pay ​award does not keep pace with the cost of living.

UNISON has warned that the NHS risks losing thousands of low-paid staff​ including 999 call handlers, healthcare assistants, medical secretaries and cleaners to the private sector unless wages increase significantly. A new report has found that supermarkets, coffee shops and logistics firms, are among those promoting wages that exceed the lowest hourly rates in the NHS.

Morrisons is offering a minimum of £10 an hour compared with £9.49 for a hospital porter or catering assistant, and Amazon’s basic rate is £11.10 for some permanent staff, according to the research commissioned from analysts Incomes Data Research.


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