MPs back call to lift pay cap for nurses and other NHS staff

MPs have backed a call for an end to the public sector pay cap for the NHS after the government chose not to contest a Labour motion rather than face an embarrassing Commons defeat.

MPs have backed a call for an end to the public sector pay cap for the NHS after the government chose not to contest a Labour motion rather than face an embarrassing Commons defeat.

Many MPs in the House of Commons backed the motion of scrapping of pay cap. Picture: iStock

The Conservatives had faced the prospect of losing a vote on the non-binding motion after their Democratic Unionist (DUP) allies made clear they would vote with the opposition.

DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds said the motion was not covered by the ‘confidence and supply’ arrangement agreed by the two parties after prime minister Theresa May saw her majority depleted in last June's general election.


MPs across political parties unanimously agreed with the opposition day debate tabled by Labour, calling for an end to the 1% pay cap for nurses and other NHS staff.

The outcome of the debate, which follows a move by the treasury earlier this week to end the pay cap for police and prison officers, does not require the government to change policy.

Labour shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth who opened the debate, spoke of the hardship facing nurses.

He added that many MPs in the Commons backed the scrapping of the pay cap because they had met nurses in their constituencies who had highlighted the 14% real terms pay drop since 2011 because of the cap.


He said: ‘Nurses turning to food banks, pawning their possessions, even being issued with eviction notices, isn’t that shameful in 21st century Britain?’

Nurses were mentioned throughout the debate and a number of nurse MPs also spoke.

Nurse and former mayor of Lincoln Karen Lee, who became Labour MP for Lincoln following the general election this year said: ‘I am a nurse, I see it first hand, I go to work once a month I still do bank shifts. We are so understaffed it is awful. The last time I did a shift I looked after ten patients.’

She said she believed if the government could find £1 billion for the DUP, it could pay public sector workers properly.

Nurse and Conservative MP for Lewes Maria Caulfied said: ‘I am supporting the RCN’s campaign to scrap the cap, but no political party comes out of this unscathed. Seven years is enough.’

North Antrim DUP MP Ian Paisley Jr, whose wife was a nurse and daughter is a nurse, spoke about pay gaps and nurse vacancies in Northern Ireland and told MPs his party was minded to support the motion.

‘Absolute nonsense’

During the debate health secretary Jeremy Hunt labelled the Labour motion as bogus and said it was ‘absolute nonsense’ to suggest the cap over the last seven years was part of an ‘ideological mission’ to reduce the size of the state.

Liz Truss, chief secretary to the treasury, said that the health secretary would submit evidence to the independent NHS Pay Review Body (RB) and the government would look at evidence from the RB rather ‘shouting out numbers at a debate’.

But Conservative MP and health select committee chair Sarah Wollaston said: ‘Seven years of sustained pressure on NHS pay is taking its toll and nobody anticipated it would go on this long, I think it is time to relax it.’

Speaking after the debate, RCN general secretary Janet Davies said: ‘The government saw the strength of opposition and backed away to avoid defeat. Despite this, the pay cap sadly remains in place tonight. The government failed to take the opportunity to scrap it explicitly.

Paying the price

‘Ministers must listen to tens of thousands of nurses who are campaigning on this and put in writing that the cap no longer applies to NHS staff. Nursing staff will continue fighting until there is evidence that next year’s pay body can recommend more than a 1% rise. 

‘Ministers are continuing to hold pay down, leaving professionals over £3,000 a year worse off. It drives nursing staff out of the NHS and patients pay the price.’

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