NHS staff in England were expecting a 2.1% pay increase in April, rather than the 1% proposed by the government.
Speaking to MPs on the health and social care committee on Tuesday, NHS England chief executive Sir Simon Stevens said that more than a million staff on the NHS ‘Agenda for Change’ contract should have been offered a more generous pay rise, as stated in the five-year funding deal former prime minister Theresa May agreed in 2018.
Pay in a pandemic
Last week, ministers suggested that a 1% pay increase for NHS workers was all the government could afford. The 1% offer applies to all staff apart from GPs, junior doctors and dentists.
“Coming out of the past year, and everything that NHS staff have been through, proper recognition for that is entirely right and I think goes with the grain of what the public would want to see,” said Stevens.
According to a survey for campaign group 38 Degrees, 53% of the public think NHS nurses should get at least a 5% pay rise and 83% think the 1% is too little for NHS staff overall.
Stevens acknowledged that the situation had changed since the NHS long-term plan was released, but said: “In a publicly funded, democratically accountable health service, the government of the day gets to decide what NHS pay should be, but you would expect me as the head of the health service to obviously want to see properly rewarded NHS staff, particularly given everything that the service has been through, and they’ve been through, over the course of the last year.”
Stevens suggested that the “right way” to resolve the issue was to let the independent pay review body look at the evidence from all sides and “make a fair recommendation so that NHS staff get the reward that they deserve”.
“The purpose of having an independent review body is so that it will consider the different evidence that is put forward by different groups through that process, and then can make a recommendation,” he said.
“Ultimately, of course government gets to decide whether to accept those recommendations, but we are in the process where the review body needs to be able to do its work without fear or favour, and then put forward that recommendation and its justification for so doing.”
However, justice secretary Robert Buckland said that the pay review process had only just begun and that there was still time for the government to change its mind about how much to award NHS staff for the 2021/22 pay round.
Coming out of the past year, and everything that NHS staff have been through, proper recognition for that is entirely right and I think goes with the grain of what the public would want to see” – Sir Simon Stevens, NHS England
He told BBC Breakfast: “We have got to remember that in large other swathes of the public sector there will be a pay freeze save for the lowest paid. I don’t think at the moment we are at the end of this process.
“I think that we need to see what the recommendations are, and I very much hope … that the work that has been done by NHS workers will be recognised in a way that is appropriate.”
Responding to Stevens’ comments, Dame Donna Kinnair, chief executive of the Royal College of Nursing, said: “The government should be listening to this growing chorus of voices telling them to reconsider the insulting 1 per cent offer.
“Sir Simon Stevens is right to say that NHS staff should be paid fairly. Nursing staff have put themselves on the line for the last year and will leave careers they love if they continue to be taken for granted.
“More nurses means better care. The public know this and it is time ministers acted to keep them.”
Last week, four major health unions – the British Medical Association, the Royal College of Nursing, the Royal College of Midwives and Unison – wrote an open letter to the chancellor, expressing their dismay at the 1% pay offer.
It said: “The proposal of a 1% pay offer, not announced from the despatch box but smuggled out quietly in the days afterwards, fails the test of both honesty and fails to provide staff who have been on the very frontline of the pandemic the fair pay deal they need.
“Our members are the doctors, nurses, midwives, porters, healthcare assistants and more, already exhausted and distressed, who are also expected to go on caring for the millions of patients on waiting lists, coping with a huge backlog of treatment as well as caring for those with Covid-19.”