Nurse pay: junior health minister rebuffs open invitation to speak with NHS staff

GMB union is angry about Helen Whately apparently being 'too busy' to meet

GMB union is angry about Helen Whately apparently being 'too busy' to speak to members about 1% pay offer

Helen Whately, minister of state for social care
Helen Whately, minister of state for social care

A health union has voiced its anger after being told a junior health minister was effectively ‘too busy’ to meet nurses and other NHS staff to discuss pay.

Minister of state for social care Helen Whately sparked controversy in March when she told a parliamentary debate that pay was ‘rarely mentioned’ when she spoke to healthcare staff.

Minister's response said she was 'unable to meet at the moment'

The GMB union has said its invitation for Ms Whately to speak directly to members about the Westminster government’s proposed 1% pay rise for NHS staff was rebuffed. The union wrote to her with an open invitation to hear from NHS staff suggesting she had ‘obviously not been speaking to those workers we hear from’.

However, a short response from her office – received on 23 April and shared by the GMB – said she was ‘getting many requests for her time’ and was ‘unable to meet at the moment’.

The Department for Health and Social Care’s response to GMB’s invitation to Helen Whately to speak with NHS nursing staff

The GMB told Nursing Standard it had hoped Ms Whately would take part in a webinar Q&A session open to all members, and that it would have been flexible around her diary.

Unions say 1% pay proposal amounts to a real terms pay cut

GMB national officer Rachel Harrison said members, including nurses felt ‘furious and let down’ over pay. ‘The minister has already shown how out of touch she is in thinking NHS staff aren’t worried about pay,’ she said.

‘But we gave her the benefit of the doubt and invited her to actually come and speak to health workers so she could hear first hand. For her to now say she is too busy to speak to the workers she is supposed to be responsible for is frankly disgusting.’

The row comes amid ongoing frustration over the 1% pay suggestion for staff on Agenda for Change contracts, which unions say amounts to a real terms pay cut. The RCN has called for a 12.5% pay increase for staff, while the GMB is pushing for a 15% wage increase.

The Independent NHS Pay Review Body has been asked to report back with a recommendation in May.

A Department for Health and Social Care spokesperson has told Nursing Standard Ms Whately regularly engages with the NHS workforce, and trade unions where possible.

'She has joined virtual visits throughout the pandemic and last month visited Watford General Hospital to speak to staff there.'

Find out more

GMB’s letter to the minister of state for social care Helen Whately

In other news