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‘Pay cap was legitimate but stupid now,’ Norman Lamb tells Nursing Standard podcast

Former health minister Norman Lamb says it would be stupid to continue the pay cap for nurses, though he defends its implementation

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Former health minister Norman Lamb has defended the coalition government’s implementation of the pay cap for nurses and other public sector workers, but says it would be ‘stupid’ to continue with it.

Speaking exclusively to the Nursing Standard Podcast, the Liberal Democrat MP and former coalition health minister said he had agreed with the initial pay freeze in 2010 and the 1% cap on pay rises between 2012 and 2015.

He said the move was necessary to curb public spending in the wake of the economic crash in 2008, but said the Conservatives should have scrapped the cap sooner.

Under control

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'I think in many ways we (the coalition) got public spending back under control. You can’t just carry on the pain endlessly. That’s where the Conservatives have gone wrong. You can’t maintain a public health system on the back of real-terms cuts to pay for staff,' he says.

‘It was legitimate to have that pay freeze to start with and continue the restraint, and the reason is at that point, if you looked at how private and public sector earnings were moving, the public sector was ahead of the private sector.'

That trend has now been reversed, he says.

Trade-off

'It’s both wrong to carry on expecting people to take a pay cut to maintain the service – which is what is happening at the moment – but it’s also stupid, because we will not attract people into the NHS if we are not paying them right.’

But he warned: ‘There is something of a trade-off in terms of the numbers of people employed and what we pay people. I’m worried the Tories will fund the increase in pay by cutting numbers. That would be disastrous.’

His comments come after health secretary Jeremy Hunt announced in parliament that the pay cap for healthcare staff will be lifted.

Nurse vacancies

Identifying nurse vacancies across the UK, including a 40,000 shortage estimated by the RCN in England alone, Mr Lamb said: ‘We have to try to attract people back into nursing.

‘And we have to be willing to accept we need people from other European countries to come here as well. We should be guaranteeing the rights of European Union workers who are here in the NHS.

‘I visited Queen Elizabeth Hospital in King’s Lynn recently. They have about 300 EU workers just in one hospital, in one small Norfolk town.

‘We need to be guaranteeing the rights of those people. If we don’t, the potential results for the NHS could be disastrous.’

Funding solution

Speaking on the podcast, Mr Lamb said he was pushing for a cross-party solution to funding health and social care.

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'Let’s sort out the financial settlement first. If you don’t do that, any politician talking about big increases in pay is lying to you, because it can’t be done.’

Mr Lamb also wants to see more spending on preventive measures in public health, attacking the government for the ‘outrageous’ closure of drug and alcohol rehabilitation centres.

Mr Lamb has campaigned on mental health issues. Listeners to the podcast can hear his thoughts on services, his achievements in government and his son’s personal experience of obsessive compulsive disorder.

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