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Nurses have endured a decade of falling wages, study finds

Health Foundation says a new approach to pay is needed, especially in the light of pandemic and cost of living pressures, while RCN demands above-inflation pay rise

Health Foundation says a new approach to pay is needed, especially in the light of pandemic and cost of living pressures, while RCN demands above-inflation pay rise

The gruelling effects of the pandemic and cost of living crisis have accelerated the need to review how nurses’ pay is planned, according to a new report.

A study by the Health Foundation found that NHS nurses have endured a decade of falling wages, with average basic earnings decreasing in real terms by 5% between 2011 and 2021, exacerbated by a seven-year public sector pay cap.

Nurses’ hard work must be ‘fairly recognised’

Health Foundation senior fellow James Buchan

Health Foundation says a new approach to pay is needed, especially in the light of pandemic and cost of living pressures, while RCN demands above-inflation pay rise

Illustration of sad nurse sitting on crumbling pound symbol
Picture: Daniel Mitchell

The gruelling effects of the pandemic and cost of living crisis have accelerated the need to review how nurses’ pay is planned, according to a new report.

A study by the Health Foundation found that NHS nurses have endured a decade of falling wages, with average basic earnings decreasing in real terms by 5% between 2011 and 2021, exacerbated by a seven-year public sector pay cap.

Nurses’ hard work must be ‘fairly recognised’

Health Foundation senior fellow James Buchan said: ‘The NHS has long suffered from chronic nursing shortages.

‘With many nurses burnt out after working on the COVID front line, and all now facing increased cost of living challenges, it’s vital that nurses feel valued and their hard work is fairly recognised when this year’s pay settlement is implemented by the government.’

According to the study findings, average earnings of nurses fell by 1.2% a year in real terms between 2010 and 2017, while the average earnings of employees in the UK fell by 0.6% a year over the same period.

Health Foundation fears a further nurse pay cut

The foundation said if the NHS Pay Review Body accepted the government’s request to cap any pay increase for 2022-23 at 3%, it would lead to a further significant real-terms reduction in nurses’ pay.

Unions believe the pay review body has made its recommendation to the government, and a decision on this year’s award is expected imminently.

But the foundation said that rather than an annual review, it recommends a shift to a three-year pay cycle and a more targeted approach to any pay enhancements or flexibilities.

It added that many nurses in the middle or latter part of their career have limited pay progression and are in the ‘high-risk category for early retirement or reduced hours, even though the NHS can ill afford to lose them.’

Mr Buchan said: ‘While the NHS faces challenging funding prospects, a real-terms pay cut this year would not contribute to retaining and motivating current staff. NHS services can only recover if there are sufficient motivated staff in place.’

Increase pay now or risk nurse exodus, says RCN

RCN general secretary Pat Cullen said: ‘At present, the UK government is ignoring the worrying trend of leavers outstripping student intake – action is needed now to ensure nursing is an appealing education and career path.

‘Anything other than an above-inflation pay rise will leave staff worse off, risk an exodus of nurses and put patient care at risk.’


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