A new NHS pay deal could give 1 million staff a 6.5% pay rise over the next three years, according to a report in The Guardian, but health workers may have to agree to give up a day’s holiday in return.
According to the report, the Treasury and Department of Health and Social Care have proposed that all non-medical staff in England receive a 3% salary rise in 2018-19 and then rises of 1%-2% in the following two years.
The scrapping of the pay cap would apply to nurses, midwives, healthcare assistants, ambulance staff and all other workers except doctors and dentists, who have a separate pay review system.
The deal will be formally put to staff later this month and would see some NHS employees receive pay rises of 10% by 2021.
The negotiations between the government and the 14 health unions have been taking place in secret and the report claims they have been constructive, with both unions and government committed to improving NHS staff’s pay.
It is thought that the idea of giving up a day’s holiday could delay agreement, however, because many staff already carry out regular unpaid overtime and have seen their real incomes cut significantly over the post-2010 austerity period.
Half of NHS employees benefit from a system of pay increments known as “progression pay” that gives them 3-4% on top of their annual increase. It is thought that this system had been under threat in favour of the wider pay rise, after hints by health secretary Jeremy Hunt last year.
But this threat is understood to have been dropped in favour of the cutting of a day’s holiday.
Nigel Edwards, chief executive of the Nuffield Trust think tank, told the Guardian that NHS staff, “particularly those paid least, will welcome the respite from a real-term squeeze on their wages. With very serious shortages of staff, government is right to conclude that an austerity approach to the NHS workforce has reached its limits.”
However, shadow chancellor John McDonnell during a speech in London, has criticised the proposals because the initial 3% rise is only in line with inflation, which meant the possible loss of a day’s holiday was unfair. He said: “I just think it’s mean-spirited to take a day’s holiday off these staff – they work long hours, they’re under pressure. I just think they deserve a decent holiday.”
If the deal is concluded it is a sign the government has recognised that the NHS is under unprecedented pressure – its chief executive Simon Stevens has said that February was its worst in its 70-year history, with waiting time targets for cancer treatment being missed and huge delays in A&E.
Edwards said: “Fundamentally, these pressures are driven by a lack of money and staff. If these are not addressed, it is inevitable that as difficult as February has been for NHS staff and patients, there will be worse to come.”
The Royal College of Nursing was cautious about the proposals, commenting on Twitter: “The RCN has been part of pay talks alongside all NHS unions. They are ongoing and have not concluded. Once there is agreement in principle – and the Treasury commits to fully fund it – our members will decide if any deal is acceptable.”
This week the results of the 2017 NHS Staff Survey revealed that the number of NHS staff satisfied with their pay was at its lowest level in 10 years.
Tim Gardner, senior policy fellow at the Health Foundation, said: “Many of these survey results will only improve when the NHS is given the resources it needs to meet growing demand without relying too much on the goodwill and sacrifice of staff.
“This means adequate long-term funding and a properly coordinated national workforce strategy which appropriately rewards staff for their efforts.”