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Josie Irwin: The battle for fair pay can still be won

Despite the disappointment of another 1% recommendation by the review body, pressure is building on the government to Scrap the Cap. Stay engaged with the campaign - and resist the dangerous argument that the NHS must prioritise jobs over pay, says the RCN's lead pay negotiator Josie Irwin.
Josie Irwin

Despite the disappointment of another 1% recommendation by the review body, pressure is building on the government to Scrap the Cap. Stay engaged with the campaign - and resist the dangerous argument that the NHS must prioritise jobs over pay, says the RCN's lead pay negotiator Josie Irwin

This years report from the NHS Pay Review Body (RB) contains strong words and stark messages: public-sector pay policy under stress, significant supply shortages in a number of staff groups and geographical areas, widespread concerns about recruitment, retention and motivation, inflation set to rise and further real-terms pay cuts on the horizon. In short, according to the RB, the NHS is reaching a tipping point.

But the report also reveals that the RB seriously considered recommending a nil pay award

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Despite the disappointment of another 1% recommendation by the review body, pressure is building on the government to Scrap the Cap. Stay engaged with the campaign - and resist the dangerous argument that the NHS must prioritise jobs over pay, says the RCN's lead pay negotiator Josie Irwin

 

This year’s report from the NHS Pay Review Body (RB) contains strong words and stark messages: ‘public-sector pay policy under stress, significant supply shortages in a number of staff groups and geographical areas, widespread concerns about recruitment, retention and motivation, inflation set to rise and further real-terms pay cuts on the horizon’. In short, according to the RB, the NHS is reaching a tipping point. 


Keeping up the momentum of the fair pay campaign is crucial. Picture: Barney Newman

But the report also reveals that the RB seriously considered recommending a nil pay award because of ‘affordability pressures, no significant nationwide recruitment and retention issues related to pay, as well as suggestions that reducing workload pressures [by increasing staffing numbers rather than pay] could have a positive impact on staff morale’. This doesn’t add up.

Why did the RB choose to contradict itself and ignore the facts on the links between the government’s policy of pay restraint and staffing problems? Did they bottle it or were they sat on by the Treasury? Ministers say repeatedly that money for pay takes money from services. We must continue to challenge the pay versus jobs argument. Staff should not have to fund the NHS deficit from their own pay, and for staff to give their best and be creative – to ensure the long-term sustainability of the NHS – they need to feel valued and receive fair pay.

Treasury threat

It is small consolation that the outcome could have been even worse. The RB conceded that the negative impact on staff morale of a pay award below 1% would not be worth the small financial benefit, even if the money was spent on increasing staffing numbers rather than reducing deficits. The Treasury’s preference to get rid of increments and opt for performance-related pay remains a threat. 

Health secretary Jeremy Hunt says the NHS can’t afford to both improve pay and increase staff numbers, and that the latter is his priority. However, nurses leaving the NHS or switching to agencies because of financial hardship is compounding the workforce shortage, adding to workload pressures and worsening morale, and this must be affecting patient care. How can nursing staff be expected to deliver high-quality care when they are struggling with inadequate staffing levels at work and worried about having to resort to food banks to feed their family at home? 

The RB asks in all seriousness 'should the government wait until there is evidence to recruitment, retention and motivation outcomes' or take action now? Significant pay-related recruitment and retention issues are here already, not just round the corner. And the situation could get worse if we lose the essential contribution of EU nurses. Keeping pay this low is starting to look like a reckless gamble.

Appetite for action

RCN Council’s decision to have a member poll on the pay award and seek ideas for the next stage of the pay campaign, including testing the appetite for industrial action, shows how passionately nursing staff feel about the impact of the 1% cap on staff and their patients. They won’t be crushed.

However it is dressed up, the 1% cap is a political choice and a sign that the government views NHS staff as an expense to be cut, not a valued resource. It is time for a change of direction. 

Our battle to Scrap the Cap may be lost for this year, but the fight is far from over. Keeping up the momentum of the campaign is crucial. Each of our members who signed the petition, their family and friends who also signed, as well as the media that publicised our members’ stories about working at the sharp end and the impact of low morale and staff shortages on patients, have a part to play in keeping up the pressure with us.

This is a struggle that is still worth fighting and a fight that can be won if members stay engaged and keep on campaigning.

Josie Irwin is RCN head of employment relations
 
Join the Nursing Counts campaign https://www.rcn.org.uk/nursingcounts
Twitter #NursingCounts #scrapthecap

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Jobs