'I don't think nurse pay is enough,' says Jeremy Hunt

Health secretary Jeremy Hunt says he 'dearly' wants to increase nurse pay – but is restricted by limited resources and other pressures on the NHS.

Health secretary Jeremy Hunt says he 'dearly' wants to increase nurse pay – but is restricted by limited resources and other pressures on the NHS

Jeremy Hunt
Jeremy Hunt: 'The challenge I have is the limited resources under which I have to operate in'
Picture: Nathan Clarke

In a speech to about 300 senior nurses and midwives at the Chief Nursing Officer for England's summit in Birmingham on Wednesday, Mr Hunt spoke about the challenges of nurse recruitment post-Brexit, but also highlighted savings made by reducing reliance on agency staff in the NHS.

After his speech, Unison head of nursing Gail Adams asked if he would consider removing the public sector pay cap for nurses.

£700 million saved

Ms Adams asked if Mr Hunt agreed nurses were worth more than a 1% cap on pay rises currently in force for nurses.

'That £700 million saved from agency staff, can we have it back please?' she said, receiving a round of applause.

She added: 'So we don't have to pay agency staff in the first place.'

Mr Hunt responded: 'I would dearly want to pay you more than 1% – to all NHS staff.

'I don't think pay is enough,' he said, praising the extra hours and work put in by staff.

'The challenge I have is the limited resources under which I have to operate in.'

Pay cap

Unions have previously argued that Agenda for Change staff have experienced pay restraint since 2010 and have lost about 14% of their pay in real terms.

No announcement has yet been made on whether the pay cap will remain in place for the 2017-18 pay round, but the government has previously committed to capping pay increases for the sector at 1% a year until 2020 

Mr Hunt told the summit: 'If I put money into pay, it would be hard to increase doctor and nursing numbers.'

Big challenge

During his speech, Mr Hunt said the NHS was facing a 'big challenge' in nursing recruitment post-Brexit, adding that keeping nurses from the European Union, who make up 22,000 staff on the NHS roll, was a 'top priority'.

'The big challenge about the nursing workforce is going to be over the changed environment that we are going to be facing as a country post-Brexit, because we have relied on recruiting from the European labour markets for many years,' he said.

'I don't envisage any cliff edge in stopping us being able to continue access where there is clear need from the European labour market.

'However we have to recognise that the nurse shortages we have are nurse shortages in other European countries as well.

'They are able to move freely now, and we still find it incredibly hard to get enough nurses and enough healthcare assistants.

'So we need to think about new ways into nursing, new ways back to nursing, and that is – alongside making sure that we train nurses we have with the new skills – going to be a very important part of making sure that we have the nursing workforce we need, going forward.'

Big expansion

Asked what reassurance he could offer the thousands of NHS nursing staff from the EU, he replied: 'We've got 22,000 nurses from the EU, they do an absolutely fantastic job, they are an integral part of our nurse workforce. We want them to stay, we want them to stay forever.

'We are confident that we'll be able to negotiate an agreement to do that as part of the Brexit process, and it is one of our absolute top priorities to make sure we do so.'

He also said 'a big expansion' in mental health nursing was under way, but more work needed to be done, particularly on children and young people's mental health.

'At the moment, for young people, we only help one in four of the people we need to help, and that is not acceptable and we have to do a lot better.

'We have the tidal wave now and we absolutely have to do something about it,' he added.

In other news

This is a free article for registered users

This article is not available as part of an institutional subscription. Why is this? You can register for free access.