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RCN evidence: the real cost of 'demoralising' pay freeze

The exodus of nurses will continue unless staff receive an above inflation pay rise, the RCN has warned.

The exodus of nurses will continue unless staff receive an above inflation pay rise, the RCN has warned.


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The college has submitted written evidence to the independent NHS Pay Review Body (RB), stating that nurses are feeling angry and demoralised following seven years of wage freezes and pay restraint.

The RB makes recommendations to the government on pay for different NHS staff groups, and is expected to report back in spring next year on the 2018-19 pay award.

In line with inflation

Along with the 13 other NHS staff trade unions, the RCN is calling on the RB to recommend a pay rise at least in line with retail price index inflation, plus a £800 flat rate increase for all Agenda for Change staff to make up for lost earnings over the past seven years.

The RCN submission highlights wages for nursing staff have fallen far below the cost of living thanks to a two-year pay freeze from 2010, and a 1% cap on pay rises since 2013.

It states the average band 5 nurse is now earning around £2,500 a year less than they would have been had their wages kept pace with inflation. 

Productivity difficulties

The government announced earlier this year that the 1% pay cap would be scrapped. But the RCN's evidence also argues that any increases in pay should not be linked to ‘productivity improvements’, as chancellor Philip Hammond and health secretary Jeremy Hunt have suggested.

It argues that it would be difficult for individual staff to be any more ‘productive’ when so many are already working extra hours without pay, working through their breaks and staying on after their shift has ended. 

However, the submission outlines a number of barriers to productivity gains which nurses themselves have highlighted, such as:

  • The pressure and pace of work are leading many older nursing staff to take early retirement.
  • Lack of clinical opportunities for experienced nurses (at bands 7 and above) means that many feel they are forced into managerial roles when they would prefer to continue working with patients.
  • Many staff also point to the scale and complexity of paperwork they have to contend with as a barrier to improving productivity and patient care.

Comments from nurses include one from a band 6 charge nurse in Scotland: 'We feel insulted by the 1% pay rise. If we weren’t so close-knit, morale would be much lower. No wonder we can’t recruit people into nursing, the government doesn’t respect the role or us.'

A band 5 staff nurse in London added: 'They are relying on our goodwill – but it’s about to break.'

'With at least 40,000 nursing posts currently vacant in England alone, the NHS cannot afford to haemorrhage any more nursing staff'

Janet Davies

RCN general secretary Janet Davies said: 'After seven years where their wages have lagged far behind the cost of living, nursing staff are now looking for a meaningful pay rise at least in line with inflation. Instead they have heard equivocal messages from the government about linking any future salary increases to productivity. This has generated anger and confusion among the nursing workforce.  

'The NHS has been running on the goodwill of nursing and other staff for far too long.  This goodwill cannot last indefinitely, and we look to the RB to make a recommendation which acknowledges the sacrifices made by NHS staff, as well as the economic necessity of a meaningful pay rise.

'With at least 40,000 nursing posts currently vacant in England alone, the NHS cannot afford to haemorrhage any more nursing staff.'

Further information

Jeremy Hunt calls for multi-year deal on nurses’ pay


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