Nurses need travel benefits to keep them in capital

Nurses and healthcare workers in London should get travel benefits to help address the rising costs of living in the capital, according to management organisation NHS Employers.

The idea was raised during a debate about health workforce recruitment and retention in the capital at a London Assembly health committee yesterday.

NHS Employers chief executive Danny Mortimer told the committee he would be bringing up the issue of subsidised transport for the NHS workforce during the mayoral campaign.

Mr Mortimer said: ‘Our workforce typically includes some of the lowest paid workers in London and even our trained nursing colleagues in an acute hospital will be earning on average around £30,000.

‘It is a lot less than some of the other public sector professionals.’

He mentioned the travel benefits that members of the police receive in London and asked if the mayor and Transport For London (TfL) could also ‘do things’ to address the cost of travel for NHS workers. 

'I think we do wonder, given the shift patterns we ask many of our staff to work – 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year - why similar benefits cannot be extended to our workforce?’

Mr Mortimer, speaking for the organisation which acts on behalf of NHS trusts in England and Wales, conceded that there could be ‘difficulties and delicacies’ if something like a congestion charge waiver was given to the entire public sector, but said there were other things that could be done.

‘For the vast majority of [the NHS] workforce, I think that case can be made and we will be making it during the mayoral campaign.’

He added that the average cost of a house in the capital was 12 times the average earnings of a nurse.

‘What that actually means is we are seeing greater and greater distances people are having to commute, particularly into central London, to work in the concentration of hospitals there.’

The topic of subsidised transport was raised initially by London Assembly health committee member Murad Qureshi who expressed interest in the idea of congestion charge exemption for NHS workers.

But, health committee member and transport committee chair Valerie Shawcross said waiving congestion charges for certain workers could be problematic for TfL because of the issue of legal precedent.

RCN operational manager covering London Sue Tarr said government decisions around pay had made ‘significant in-roads’ into whether the nursing workforce stays or leaves the capital.

‘Our members are telling us London is expensive to live in and travel around.’

In January, RCN research showed one in five nursing posts in London was vacant, with more than 10,000 empty nursing posts across all 36 London NHS trusts last year.

They also revealed the nursing vacancy rate in London was much higher than the national average of 10%.