Health unions were united in their condemnation of the government’s pay award for NHS staff this week pointing to the need to do more to support staff and stem the flow of staff leaving the NHS 

After a series of real terms pay cuts over the last decade union leaders are in no mood to accept this latest offer of 4% against inflation which currently stands at 11.7%.

According to figures by the Health Foundation the pay of nurses and health visitors has dropped by £1,600 over the past decade, whilst scientists, therapists and technical staff earn around £2,400 less in real terms.

Royal College of Nursing (RCN) Chief Executive and General Secretary Pat Cullen  “A pay rise of 4% would be an insult, leaving an experienced nurse more than £1,400 a year worse off. Ministers have a very important choice to make – deliver an above inflation pay rise for the nursing profession or the current exodus of staff will continue, putting more patients at risk,” she explained.

Across England last year over 38,000 nurses and health visitors left the NHS – 11% of the nursing workforce according to figures by NHS Digital, citing the pressure of the job and the difficulty in maintaining the standards of care. At the same time 40,000 new staff joined the NHS, but a further 50,000 nursing posts remain unfilled.

The retention crisis could worsen according to a survey carried out by UNISON of more than 9,000 health workers in England, which found that almost half (48%) are seriously considering leaving the NHS in the next year, and the union believes this trend, unless abated, will seriously undermine efforts to reduce the 6.5m strong waiting list.

The Unison survey also found that of those thinking about leaving, three fifths (61%) were attracted by better pay, while one in five (21%) wanted to work in less-pressured working conditions. 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.

A worryingly similar picture is emerging across the NHS. NHS digital figures outline how In the last year more than 9% of ambulance staff in England left the NHS and the size of the workforce fell (1796 were recruited against 1,687 that left). Of the 175,000 Scientific, therapeutic & technical staff – 11.9% left the NHS with only slightly more joining.

Anita Charlesworth, Director of Research and the REAL Centre  confirmed the scale of the  real-terms basic pay cut for nurses – the biggest section of the workforce, and means a reduction of between £1,400 and £2,500 on average per full-time equivalent.

Speaking on the day of the announcement she also highlighted the lack of funding within current the NHS budgets to support pay rises.

‘Today’s offer to staff increases the NHS pay bill by almost 5% in 2022/23* – with pay rises weighted more heavily towards the lower paid. This is more generous than the 3% proposed and accounted for in the autumn. However, no new money has been announced to pay for the further increase, which will need to be paid from the existing health budget. The government can’t keep piling unfunded commitments into the NHS and leave it to those on the frontline to pick up the pieces – the NHS deserves better.

NHS workers are already receiving public support as they consider their next step. Good Morning Britain’s health editor, Dr Hilary, said that NHS workers struggling ‘isn’t right’ and the government are ‘blackmailing’ the workers. A poll of the public found that 55% of 2,073 people quizzed by Savanta ComRes supported an above-inflation wage rise for health staff. Only  28% thought a below-inflation rise to be fair.

Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said: “The Government promised rewards for the dedication of the public sector workforce during the pandemic.

“What they have delivered instead, in real terms, is a kick in the teeth. The so-called wage offer amounts to a massive national pay cut. We expected the inevitable betrayal but the scale of it is an affront.”

Unison general secretary Christina McAnea said: “Fed-up staff might well now decide to take the matter into their own hands…If there is to be a dispute in the NHS, ministers will have no one to blame but themselves.”

Society of Radiographers  Executive Director, Dean Rogers commented  “Since last year’s pay award we’ve had NI increases, increased student loans, the re-introduction of parking charges and we know around 70% of NHS staff will see pension contributions increase in October…. There is a real risk that this might result in more people choosing to leave the NHS.

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