RCN tells review body 'pay restraint must end'

RCN gives evidence to NHS Pay Review Body, which will make recommendations on public sector pay levels to the government for 2017/18.

The RCN has given evidence to the NHS Pay Review Body (RB), which will make recommendations on nurses’ pay levels to the government for 2017/18.

The college highlights issues including nursing shortages, the removal of student bursaries, staff morale, recruitment and retention, and the possible impact of Brexit on the profession.

The RCN wants the RB to recommend removing the 1%-a-year pay award restriction. The college also wants the RB to support the pay claim of NHS Staff Side, which is made up of representatives from health unions and is calling for:

  • A return to a UK-wide pay scale using Scotland as a reference point.
  • A restructuring of bands 1-3 to pay the living wage and maintain pay differentials.
  • A pay award in line with the retail price index applied equally to all Agenda for Change staff.

Last year, the RCN highlighted pay disparity between Northern Ireland and other UK countries and threatened industrial action. 

Government plans

In July, the Treasury wrote to RB chair Jerry Cope confirming that it would fund public sector pay awards of an average of 1% a year up to 2019/20.

In the letter, the government said it expected to provide targeted pay awards to support the delivery of public services and to address recruitment and retention pressures. 

This could mean some workers receive more than 1% while others receive less, but the Treasury said there should be no expectation that every worker would receive a 1% pay award. 

Health secretary Jeremy Hunt wrote to the RB in August stating that the government wanted public sector pay restraint to continue.

Recruitment and retention

In its evidence to the RB, the RCN cites the decision of the migration advisory committee (MAC) to put nursing on the shortage occupation list this year as the ‘culmination and consequence of years of poor workforce planning, pay restraint and weak decision-making on staffing issues’.

The college agrees with the MAC that pay has a large influence on poor nurse retention in permanent roles, with many moving to agency work or leaving the profession altogether.

Between November 2014 and November 2015, the joint vacancy rate across the nursing, midwifery and health visiting NHS workforce in England stood at 8.9%, compared with a leaving rate of 10.4%, according to the RCN evidence.

RCN head of employment relations Josie Irwin says the college is calling for recruitment and retention premia (RRP) at trusts with a staff shortage, which should be resourced by the government.

NHS Employers defines RRP as a pay supplement applied to individual jobs, or groups of jobs, where labour market pressures make it difficult for employers to recruit and retain staff in sufficient numbers at the normal salary rate.

RRPs may be awarded locally by employers or nationally, on the recommendation of the RB.

Workforce crisis

Ms Irwin says she recognises trusts are in dire financial positions. ‘But the workforce crisis is worse and this is one way of addressing it along with an above-inflation pay increase,’ she adds.

‘We have been saying over a period of years that nursing is heading for a perfect storm.’

She adds that the RCN is confident that its evidence is robust and would get a fair hearing.

‘We are always hopeful as we have high regard for the RB.

‘We can’t be equally confident that the government will listen to the RB, but if the review body does its job correctly it could make a compelling case.’

Nurse numbers

The RCN has also raised concerns about the impact on nurse supply when bursary and fee arrangements for nursing students in England are replaced with student loans from 2017.

In the NHS, 6% of the nursing workforce was born in another European Union (EU) country, according to the Labour Force Survey published by the Office for National Statistics earlier this year. 

The RCN believes that the settlement negotiated with the EU post-Brexit could mean the UK may restrict the flow of immigrants from Europe.

Unite national officer for health Sarah Carpenter says NHS staff have experienced huge pressures for the past six years and it is unsustainable.

She adds: ‘In Unite’s annual membership survey this year, more than 70% of NHS nurses told us they would not recommend their occupation as a career in the health service, with 58% considering leaving their posts for a job outside the NHS.’

‘I know nurses who are leaving’

A health visitor from East Anglia told Nursing Standard that she qualified as a nurse in 2011 but became a health visitor two years ago because she could earn more money

‘What pushed me out of nursing is that I knew there would an increment freeze. Although I’m not on band 5 any more as a health visitor and am earning more money, my pay is capped. It is frightening because not everyone is able to or indeed wants to move up the ladder due to their circumstances.

‘I’ve noticed a rise in utility bills and council tax, and more of my income is going towards that. Leisure activities such as swimming for the children are being cut back.

‘I love my job but with it comes a lot of responsibility because I’m also a prescriber. When I think about the work I am doing versus my income, my economic status in this country is falling.

‘I have two children, one is in nursery and the other has just started high school. Although I don’t pay for their education there are certainly costs associated with having children in school.

‘There are staff shortages and I’m in the process of registering with an agency to do extra nursing shifts. You can work 24/7 and earn more money but I believe the standard of care would drop.

‘I know nurses and health visitors who are leaving, I know someone who joined the police force because they thought it would be easier.

‘It is easy to leave the profession when you are younger, but when you have a family it can sometimes just be about survival. Job satisfaction is low in the acute sector and in the community. People are just doing what they need to in order to get the job done. It is sad really.’

This article is for subscribers only