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Capping NHS nurses’ pay is ‘unsustainable’, MPs warn

Commons health select committee says NHS needs to be a more attractive employer
staff pay squeeze

The NHS will struggle to recruit and retain nurses and other healthcare staff if it presses on with its unsustainable pay cap, say MPs.

In a wide-ranging review of NHS finances in England, the Commons health select committee said the government needs to make the health service a more attractive workplace for permanent staff, instead of relying on expensive agency workers.

The government announced in March 2016 that the NHS would pin pay increases at a maximum of 1% a year between now and the next general election. Yet the office for budget responsibility estimates pay rates in the rest of the economy will increase by between 2.6% and 3.6% annually in the same period, widening the pay gap between jobs in the NHS and comparable roles in other sectors.

Nurses pay lags behind

The health committees Impact of the Spending Review on health and social care

The NHS will struggle to recruit and retain nurses and other healthcare staff if it presses on with its ‘unsustainable’ pay cap, say MPs.

In a wide-ranging review of NHS finances in England, the Commons health select committee said the government needs to make the health service a more attractive workplace for permanent staff, instead of relying on expensive agency workers.

The government announced in March 2016 that the NHS would pin pay increases at a maximum of 1% a year between now and the next general election. Yet the office for budget responsibility estimates pay rates in the rest of the economy will increase by between 2.6% and 3.6% annually in the same period, widening the pay gap between jobs in the NHS and comparable roles in other sectors.

Nurses’ pay lags behind

The health committee’s Impact of the Spending Review on health and social care report described the 1% pay gap as unsustainable. It called on the government to set out its plan for recruiting and retaining the NHS workforce and for making working permanently in the NHS – rather than agency work – a ‘more attractive option’.

‘There is a risk that a rigid long-term squeeze on pay will affect the ability to recruit and retain NHS staff, and increase the reliance on more expensive agency staff,’ the report said.

Unison head of health Christina McAnea told the review: ‘Between 2010 and now, if NHS pay had kept pace with the retail price index, a nurse would be earning £4,700 more than they currently earn.’

Student bursary threat

The committee also called on the government to ‘immediately’ review the likely impact of proposals to scrap NHS student bursaries on the supply of nurses and other allied health professionals. The MPs urged ministers to examine the effect on those taking nursing as a second degree, and consider a transitional approach for these students.

The Department of Health told the review the proposals would create 10,000 extra training places. But the RCN gave evidence to the committee claiming the purported benefits had been overstated.

RCN general secretary Janet Davies said: ‘The RCN calls on the government to halt this untested gamble because anything that deters people from becoming nurses would be a big loss to our society.

‘More than that, we’re providing support to help hospitals make efficiencies and improve productivity as well as national measures to reduce the use of expensive agency staff.’


Further information

Health select committee report in the impact of the spending review on health and social care

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