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Josie Irwin: Now more than ever, we need to keep up the pressure to scrap the pay cap

The parliamentary debate on NHS pay was secured by an online petition – proof of what can be achieved when nurses and their supporters take action, says the RCN’s chief pay negotiator Josie Irwin.
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The parliamentary debate on NHS pay was secured by an online petition proof of what can be achieved when nurses and their supporters take action, says the RCNs chief pay negotiator Josie Irwin

Nursing staff do not enter the profession for high salaries. However, they are entitled to be valued for caring for their patients and rewarded appropriately.

It is not surprising, given the pressures on the NHS, that nursing staff feel so overwhelmed in their working lives that they do not have the energy to speak up about the impact of pay restraint. They are run off their feet some members tell us they are working 12 hours on the go and do not even have time to have a drink

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The parliamentary debate on NHS pay was secured by an online petition – proof of what can be achieved when nurses and their supporters take action, says the RCN’s chief pay negotiator Josie Irwin


An RCN member’s petition calling for an end to the 1% pay cap garnered more than
100,000 signatures. Picture: iStock

Nursing staff do not enter the profession for high salaries. However, they are entitled to be valued for caring for their patients and rewarded appropriately.   

It is not surprising, given the pressures on the NHS, that nursing staff feel so overwhelmed in their working lives that they do not have the energy to speak up about the impact of pay restraint. They are run off their feet – some members tell us they are working 12 hours on the go and do not even have time to have a drink of water. 

However, the parliamentary debate on 30 January, which called on the government to scrap the 1% cap on NHS pay, shows just what can be achieved when people take a moment to complete an online form. 

The fact there was a debate at all is testament to the amazing efforts of members and their families to get behind the RCN member Danielle Tiplady’s online petition, and secure the 100,000 signatures needed to trigger the debate.  

Convincing case 

The impact of the petition and the debate was widely felt, with Twitter coverage of #scrapthecap trending throughout the afternoon.

Members attending the RCN’s parliamentary lobby ahead of the debate made a convincing case to MPs, who went on to share their stories. 

Despite other key debates going on at the same time, MPs from across political parties and from around the UK participated, drawing on many of the points the RCN has been making.

MPs asked how staff can be expected to deliver high-quality care when they are experiencing economic hardship. 

Rising demand 

They asked whether nurses were leaving the NHS or switching to agency work because they could not afford basic necessities.

Many made the point about the self-defeating cycle of nurses leaving the NHS for agency work, which costs the NHS far more than paying a fair wage. 

They highlighted the hypocrisy of ignoring the independent NHS Pay Review Body, while agreeing with Pay Review Body recommendations on MPs’ pay.

In response to the debate, the health minister Philip Dunne hinted he could not lift pay restraint because the country was not in ‘normal economic times’, and cited the pressure of rising demand for NHS services. 

Members’ stories 

His argument that money for pay takes money from services must be challenged. Staff should not have to fund the NHS deficit from their own pay, or accept that it is either pay caps or jobs. Mr Dunne said that staff working in new and creative ways was essential to the long-term sustainability of the NHS. But for staff to give their best and be creative, they need to feel valued and receive fair pay.

We now have to wait until March for the review body’s report and the government’s decision on the 2017 pay award. Keeping up the momentum of the parliamentary and media interest in the debate will be crucial. 

We all have a role to play in making sure nurses’ voices continue to be heard in the run-up to the budget and the pay announcement in March, whether through social media or engaging directly with MPs. 

Above all, it is our members’ stories about working at the sharp end and the impact on patients of low morale and staff shortages that has the most powerful effect.


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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