14 July 2023

NHS staff pay rise agreed before ‘higher’ hike for doctors is fair, says No 10

14 July 2023

Number 10 has rejected suggestions that it was unfair for ministers to have agreed a 5% pay rise with more than one million NHS staff before offering a higher baseline increase to doctors.

Downing Street said it was “wrong” to look at only headline pay rise figures, arguing that one-off bonus payments made to staff on Agenda for Change contracts (AfC) meant their increase in earnings had actually been worth more than a 6% rise.

Part of the deal struck between ministers and health unions in May saw around 1.3 million eligible staff on the AfC contract – which includes nurses, paramedics, 999 call handlers, midwives, security guards and cleaners – receive a 5% pay rise, backdated to April.

As part of the same deal, those eligible have also started receiving a one-off payment for last year and a so-called NHS backlog bonus for this year, worth between £1,250 and £1,600 depending on an employee’s pay band.

On Thursday, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak announced he was accepting the recommendation of independent pay bodies for a 6% rise for consultants, along with the same award for England’s striking junior doctors, who are also being offered an additional consolidated £1,250 increase.

Through the Agenda for Change deal, we’ve put more money into the pockets of healthcare workers this year than would have been the case with a 6% consolidated rise

The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) branded ministers’ approach as “highly cavalier” and said the pay award to nurses was “unfair and inadequate”.

General secretary Pat Cullen, said: “The Prime Minister will have to explain to over a million outraged NHS workers why they are getting the lowest pay rise in the public sector.

“Record numbers of jobs in the NHS are unfilled and the Government cannot expect to turn that around when it appears not to value them.

“Inflation is not coming down in the way ministers told NHS staff and others it would. For nursing staff, the pay rise they actually rejected is worth increasingly little and being eclipsed now by announcements for other professions.”

While more than 100,000 nurses — about 84% who took part in the poll — are said to have voted to continue strikes over pay, the ballot last month fell short of the requirement for the majority of union members to turn out.

Downing Street said nurses on AfC contracts were seeing uplifts in pay that went beyond the 5% headline figure.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “When it comes to the Agenda for Change deal, it would be wrong to look at just the 5% figure because they received a significant non-consolidated award worth between 3.5% and 8.2% of their basic pay.

“Through the Agenda for Change deal, we’ve put more money into the pockets of healthcare workers this year than would have been the case with a 6% consolidated rise.”

He said the lowest paid AfC staff had seen a pay increase of more than 20% since 2021/22, with nurses £5,000 better off over the past two years.

Treasury minister John Glen told MPs on Thursday that the previously agreed deal was worth more than £3,600 for the average nurse or more than £3,700 for the average ambulance worker.

Rishi Sunak’s spokesman also highlighted that nurses had received pay rises when other public sector workers had not in order to reward them for their frontline efforts during the Covid-19 pandemic.

He added: “We think that is a fair offer, both to recognise the hard work of healthcare workers and for taxpayers.

“Unions, including the RCN, recommended it to their members, and the (NHS) Staff Council supported that, so we think it is the right deal for the workforce.”

Some AfC staff remain in a wrangle over being paid the Covid backlog bonus, worth as much as £1,600.

Campaign groups have said the Government’s pay deal is “treating many thousands of staff unfairly” by not including those working for social enterprises, charities and other not-for-profit providers as eligible for the payment.

Interest groups and unions such as Social Enterprise UK, RCN, Unite and the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy have written to Health Secretary Steve Barclay calling on him to fully fund the bonus to those who are currently missing out.

The Department of Health has so far refused to budge on its stance that those not directly employed by the NHS are not eligible for the extra four-figure sum.

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