Nurse pay demands ‘neither reasonable nor affordable’ – health secretary

Steve Barclay says he is ‘saddened’ by nurses choosing to vote for strike action, and adds that the pay offer is ‘fair for nurses and the taxpayer’

Steve Barclay says he is ‘saddened’ by nurses choosing to vote for strike action, and adds that the pay offer is ‘fair for nurses and the taxpayer’

Health and social care secretary Steve Barclay. Picture: Alamy

Pay demands from unions representing nurses are ‘neither reasonable nor affordable’ and strike action is not in anyone’s best interest, health and social care secretary Steve Barclay has said.

Mr Barclay added that he was ‘saddened’ by nurses voting for strike action over poor pay and patient safety concerns, but said the government ‘cannot agree’ to unreasonable pay demands.

The RCN has been campaigning for a pay increase of 5% above inflation. NHS staff in England and Wales were offered a pay rise of £1,400 (4%) earlier this year. Mr Barclay said that was on top of the 3% offered last year.

Pay offer is a ‘balanced increase’, says health and social care secretary

Writing in the Sunday Telegraph, he said the pay award, determined by the NHS Pay Review Body (RB), is a ‘balanced increase’ which is ‘fair for nurses and the taxpayer’.

‘As a result, a newly qualified nurse will now typically earn over £31,000 a year including overtime and unsocial hours payments – and senior nurses will take home over £40,000,’ he said.

‘Yet the RCN is demanding a massive pay rise of 17.6%; an increase that is simply neither reasonable nor affordable.’

According to the 2022-23 Agenda for Change pay scales, a band 5 nurse starts out on £27,055 in their first year in the role, increasing to £32,934 after four years. Nurses only start to earn more than £40,000 at the top of band 6, often when they reach managerial positions.

‘The government cannot agree to unreasonable pay demands’

Mr Barclay’s comments come as tens of thousands of nurses across the UK voted to take to the picket line in the biggest nursing strike in NHS history.

Mr Barclay said he had a ‘constructive’ meeting with RCN general secretary Pat Cullen after the ballot results were announced last week, adding that he believed there were ‘numerous areas’ where they can work to ‘fix the NHS’.

‘My door will always be open,’ he said. ‘I want to continue the dialogue we started and explore how to find a way forward. But the government cannot agree to unreasonable pay demands.’

Joint Scotland/Wales letter calls for more funding from Westminster

Meanwhile, Scotland’s health and social care secretary Humza Yousaf and Wales’ minister for health and social services Eluned Morgan have written a joint letter to Mr Barclay asking for more funding to help avert strike action this winter.

The letter states that any industrial action would likely have ‘catastrophic effects’ across the UK.

‘The risk to the NHS of industrial action this winter is profound, and we all need to do all we can to avert industrial action in any form,’ the letter states.

‘We are experiencing a cost of living crisis and the anger of NHS staff is entirely understandable. While the support provided by the UK government on areas such as support for energy bills is welcome, it has not gone nearly far enough.’

Picture from around the UK

The Scottish Government recently upped its pay offer from 5% to around 8% backdated to April, while Wales has repeatedly said any increase in pay is reliant on more funding from Westminster. Nurses in Northern Ireland are yet to be offered a pay increase.

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: ‘We are investing record amounts in health and social care and the chancellor has been clear that protecting public services like the NHS is a priority.

'We are hugely grateful for the hard work of NHS staff, including nurses, and that’s why we accepted the recommendations of the independent RB in full.’

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