NHS staff should receive a pay rise of at least 4%, independent experts have advised, putting healthcare workers on a collision course with ministers who have set a firm maximum of 3%.
The Pay Review Body (PRB) will recommend that NHS staff get a raise of between 4% and 5% this year, according to the Guardian, despite government warnings that undertaking such advice would break the bank.
Health unions have warned that even an increase of this order would do little to appease nurses, midwives and other staff – and would struggle to avoid the prospect of a strike across the NHS .
They pointed out that NHS workers are grappling with soaring costs for energy, petrol, food and other basics, forcing some to resort to food banks.
Unions are seeking hikes that at least match inflation, which stands at 9.1%, the highest in 40 years, although the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) is seeking a five percentage point rise in more – 14%.
For every additional 1% NHS staff in England receive, it would cost NHS England around £700million a year, the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) has calculated.
Pat Cullen, general secretary of the RCN, claimed a 4% pay offer would be “an insult”, leading to a real pay cut for nurses and exacerbating the shortage of them in the NHS.
“A 4% pay rise would be an insult, making an experienced nurse worse off by over £1,400 a year. Ministers have a very important choice to make – offer an above inflation pay rise for the nursing profession or the current exodus of staff will continue, putting more patients at risk,” she said.
Health experts and staff groups widely expected PRB to recommend a 3% increase for 2022/23, the same amount as last year, when they submit their detailed written opinions to DHSC.
While it was originally planned to reinflate the 3%, the independent group of eight experts revised their thinking and settled on a figure of around or more than 4%, the Guardian said.
His decision to recommend at least 4% will add to the pressure on ministers to drop their insistence, underlined in their written testimony to the PRB in February, that 3% was the maximum the government could afford to give to the staff this year. Anything above 3% would not be “affordable”, he said, given that the NHS must focus spending on tackling the huge backlog of people waiting for hospital treatment. “Financial restrictions on wages are necessary,” he told PRB.
Unison also argued that 4% would not prevent the growing push for industrial action. “Anything below inflation would be a pay cut,” said Sara Gorton, the union’s health officer.
“But 4% is less than half the current cost of living. Such a low reward could also see disgruntled health workers demanding action from their unions.
The PRB advises the Prime Minister, DHSC, Cabinet Secretary and three devolved administrations on pay rises for the 1.5 million NHS staff across the UK who are covered by the long-standing deal Agenda For Change – all staff except doctors and dentists.
It takes into account a range of factors to form an opinion, including the need to recruit and retain staff as well as the budgets available for the health services of the four countries of origin.
However, the DHSC this week did not repeat its previous position that 3% was the maximum it could afford, leaving open the possibility that it could support a higher figure.
A DHSC spokesperson said: “NHS staff received a 3% pay rise last year, raising nurses’ pay by an average of £1,000 despite a public sector pay freeze, and we are giving NHS workers another pay rise of salary this year.
“No decision has been made and we will carefully consider the recommendations of the independent compensation review bodies. »
If the government decides to abandon its 3% plan and approve a higher wage offer to try to stave off strikes, it could do so – but let NHS England pay the extra costs involved in its budget. This is what it did last year, when it only allowed a 2.1% increase.
Sajid Javid, the Health Secretary, has twice insisted this month that the NHS ‘doesn’t need the money anymore’.
Anita Charlesworth, director of research and economics at the Health Foundation, said a 4% pay premium would make it harder for the NHS to recruit and retain staff and also intensify the NHS’s battle to balance its budget.
“This is still above the pay the NHS has budgeted for and would add pressure to already stretched NHS finances. Even without this wage reward, the NHS funding settlement was around £2billion less than what would be needed to meet all service demands after Covid-19,” she said.