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Government burying head in the sand over NHS pay cap, says MP

In a debate on nursing pay, MPs warned that the NHS could not afford to lose the goodwill of nurses who feel they are being taken for granted. 

In a debate on nursing pay, MPs warned that the NHS could not afford to lose the goodwill of nurses who feel they are being taken for granted.

The debate was triggered by a petition signed by 104,000 calling for an end to pay restraint.

Some 26 representatives, including one former health secretary and two ex-health ministers, took part in a parliamentary debate on 30 January over the 1% pay cap on nurses and other NHS workers.

The two-hour debate heard from politicians who gave examples of nurses facing hardship in their own constituencies, including nurses having to pawn jewellery to pay bills, using foodbanks and missing holidays.

Labour MP for Newcastle-upon-Tyne North Catherine McKinnell led the debate, which was triggered by a petition signed by 104,000 calling for an end to pay restraint.

The petition, started by community nurse and backed by the RCN, argued that Agenda for Change staff have experienced pay restraint since 2010 and have lost about 14% of their pay in real terms.

False economy

Former health secretary Andy Burnham, Labour MP for Leigh, told the debate: ‘Nurses cannot carry on having their pay cut every single year while they face other pressures and rising costs without there being a consequence.’

Mr Burnham also described as a ‘false economy’ the overreliance of trusts on expensive agency nurses to plug workforce gaps.

He added: ‘Nurses are the backbone of the national health service.

‘They have limits, though. They feel taken for granted. The NHS cannot afford to lose the goodwill of the nursing profession.’

Philippa Whitford, SNP MP for Central Ayrshire said: ‘If we treat people badly, eventually they go away, because frankly they are burnt out. Nursing is a hard, heavy and stressful job.’

‘Is it all worth it?’

Shadow health secretary Justin Madders, Labour MP for Ellesmere Port and Neston is leading the opposition fight against austerity in the public sector.

He said: ‘When someone who has just finished yet another draining shift, going above and beyond the call of duty, finds that they do not have enough cash in the bank to feed themselves and their family, they could be forgiven for thinking, ‘Is it all worth it?’

In response, the minister of state for health Philip Dunne, Conservative MP for Ludlow said of nurses: ‘They undoubtedly deserve a cost of living increase, but we must recognise that the financial and quality challenge facing the NHS is unprecedented.’

He denied allegations of undervaluing staff, and of his department not listening to concerns.

He claimed the average nursing wage of £31,000 is ‘significantly above the national average’ and that the issue of recruitment and retention is not just about pay.

Face up to damage

‘Agenda for Change staff have access to an excellent pension scheme, far in excess of arrangements in the wider economy,' he said.

‘They have annual leave of up to 33 days plus the eight bank holidays, which is far better than that which is available in the private sector.

‘They have sickness and maternity arrangements that go well beyond the statutory minimum and there are flexible working, training and development opportunities for staff at all grades.’

Speaking after the debate Ms McKinnell said: ‘Despite everything he heard the minister appears determined to continue to bury his head in the sand.

‘The government must face up to the damage this policy is doing to the NHS.’

Struggling staff

Ms Tiplady said: ‘I was thrilled to see MPs from all political parties highlight and appreciate how staff are struggling.

‘But this acknowledgement must be rewarded with clear action from the government by putting their money where their mouth is and rewarding us an above inflation pay rise.’

The independent Pay Review Body is expected to make recommendations about the 2017-18 pay award in February.

Watch a recording of the debate here

MPs who spoke at the nurse pay debate
Name Party Constituency
Andy Burnham Labour Leigh
Jim Cunningham Labour Coventry South
Philip Dunne Conservative (health minister) Ludlow
Mark Durkan Social Democratic and Labour Party Foyle
Tom Elliott UUP Fermanagh and South Tyrone
Nigel Evans Conservative Ribble Valley
Richard Fuller Conservative Bedford
Roger Gale Conservative North Thanet
Mary Glindon Labour North Tyneside
Lilian Greenwood Labour Nottingham South
Sylvia Hermon Independent North Down
Philip Hollobone Conservative Kettering
George Howarth Labour Knowsley
Rupa Huq Labour Ealing Central and Acton
Norman Lamb Lib Dem (health spokesperson) North Norfolk
Catherine McKinnell Labour Newcastle upon Tyne North
Justin Madders Labour (shadow health) Ellesmere Port and Neston
Daniel Poulter Conservative Central Suffolk and North Ipswich
Andrew Smith Labour Oxford East
John Spellar Labour Warley
Wes Streeting Labour Ilford North
Andrew Selous Conservative South West Bedfordshire
Chris Stephens SNP Glasgow South West
Stephen Timms Labour East Ham
Nick Thomas-Symonds Labour Torfaen
Philippa Whitford SNP (health spokesperson) Central Ayrshire

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