Pay rise for nurses: a better deal can no longer be a matter for debate

Nurse staffing crisis can never be solved if ministers ignore the financial pressures pushing nurses away from the NHS

The pressure experienced by NHS nurses in the pandemic must spur on policymakers to resolve long-term pay and staffing issues Picture: Alamy

The deployment of the army to support NHS hospitals in the COVID-19 response provides stark evidence of the immense pressures bearing down on staff.

Sickness levels are worryingly high with almost 100,000 NHS employees in England absent on one day in January, with half off either because they had coronavirus or they were self-isolating. This is an 80% increase on the equivalent figure for December, according to NHS England.

No one can magic-up any more workforce when there is none, and all short-term staffing solutions have been exhausted.

The 400 military personnel sent to hospitals in the Midlands and London will take on healthcare assistant, portering and estates staff roles, and their help is gratefully received.

Any long-term nurse staffing plan will be dependent on where pay is pitched

We all know a priority to emerge as a legacy of this pandemic must be to form a long-term nurse staffing plan. While this can’t help right now, there is something the government can do that would be a start: giving nurses a decent pay rise – this year.

The RCN this week submitted its evidence to the NHS pay review body in England, outlining its case for a 12.5% pay rise for nursing staff. It made a direct link between fair pay, recruitment and staff retention.

And ministers – who made an election promise of 50,000 more nurses in the NHS by 2024 – know they must make staff retention more easy for health service employers.

We know nurse retention pivots heavily on pay

A survey of 42,000 RCN members last year found pay was cited as a major reason why nurses might leave the profession – and three-quarters of respondents said better pay would make them feel more valued.

The value of nurses should not need to be debated in a year like this, where their skills, professionalism and humanity is centre-stage for all to see.

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