Call for 'proper pay rises', as Jeremy Hunt announces end to nurses' pay cap

The health secretary tells parliament that the pay cap on public sector workers has been scrapped.
Jeremy Hunt

Health leaders have demanded 'proper pay rises', after Jeremy Hunt told MPs the 1% pay cap for NHS staff had been 'scrapped'.

Jeremy Hunt's announcement has been cautiously welcomed. Picture: PA

Speaking in the House of Commons today, health secretary Mr Hunt said: ‘I have good news – the pay cap has been scrapped.

‘We recognise it wasn’t sustainable to carry on with the 1% going forward, and that’s why next year we’ve been given the leeway to have more flexible negotiations.’

The Treasury has yet to confirm the move.

The RCN, which has been running a sustained campaign against the pay cap, says nursing pay has fallen by 14% in real terms since 2010, equating to a £3,000-a-year pay cut for nurses.

It is not yet known whether NHS staff will receive pay awards that match rising inflation.

Union response

RCN general secretary Janet Davies said: ‘Jeremy Hunt has listened to the tens of thousands of nurses who made their feelings clear and we thank him for today’s categorical statement.

‘He has put beyond all doubt that the pay cap is scrapped after a summer-long campaign by the RCN. Our members in every corner of the UK fought hard and can be proud of this achievement.

‘The cap held pay below inflation and gave nurses year-on-year pay cuts. With a staffing crisis building, the government is right to lift it.

‘The next pay offer must not come in below inflation and ministers cannot ask the NHS to make other cuts to pay for it – services must be given extra funding to cover the cost.’

‘The right thing to do’

Unison general secretary Dave Prentis said: 'Scrapping the pay cap is the right thing to do, but it's only meaningful if workers receive proper pay rises.

'The government’s announcement looks worryingly like a smoke and mirrors move, with talk of "productivity improvements". NHS staff, patients and services shouldn't be made to suffer to fund a pay rise.

'This cap has to be scrapped, and replaced with decent pay rises, for all public service workers.'

Royal College of Midwives director for policy, communication and employment relations Jon Skewes said the college ‘very much welcomes’ the move, but cautions against empty promises.

Mr Skewes said: ‘The government must commit to fully funding a real-terms pay increase for midwives and NHS staff.

‘Anything less will fundamentally damage employment relations in the health service and will add to the already rock-bottom NHS morale.

‘It will further push midwives out of the profession at a time when we already have a shortage that is getting worse.

‘We need our NHS staff more than ever because, ultimately, investment in NHS staff is an investment in high quality, safe NHS care.’

Effective rally

In early September, thousands of nurses descended on Whitehall as part of a rally protesting against the continuing pay cap. Later in the month Conservatives chose not to contest a Labour motion calling for an end to the cap.

Macmillan Cancer Support chief executive Lynda Thomas said nurses and doctors working in cancer care had faced ‘unprecedented pressure’ in recent years and that recruitment and retention needed improvement.

She said: ‘Lifting the cap on pay is, however, only one part of the puzzle.

‘As well as addressing immediate challenges, the government must come up with an ambitious and bold long-term vision for the NHS cancer workforce, which ensures the health service is fit to meet future demand.’

Opposition view

Labour shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth warned that Mr Hunt ‘cannot say whether this [money] is going to come from existing budgets or not. 

Mr Ashworth said: ‘It looks like hospitals will be forced to cut other services to find the funds.

‘Mr Hunt is trying to face both ways on NHS pay and it just means even more uncertainty. 

‘While the government dithers, staff continue to leave the health service and patients continue to be at risk from short-staffed services.  

‘The government needs to immediately confirm that extra funding will be provided to lift the NHS pay cap so that all staff can benefit from a long overdue pay rise.’

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