Should nurses receive a golden hello or a long-term incentive to stay?

Employers are having to devise recruitment and retention packages to fill the salary gap, when the issue of nurses’ pay is a nettle only government can grasp

Illustration of a golden handshake, denoting the cash nurses are being offered to take up posts in hard-to-fill areas
Picture: iStock

So, who would have thought it? NHS employers are finding they need to provide financial incentives to attract nurses to work for them.

Some trusts in England are offering ‘golden hellos’ of around £4,500 to recruits for hard-to-fill roles and it’s the kind of measure a number of healthcare employers have had to resort to for some time now. While many give the money to nurses as soon as they join, Cheshire and Wirral Partnership NHS Foundation Trust is paying recruits in instalments on condition they stay long enough to reach particular employment anniversaries.

Long-term nurse staffing malaise cannot be cured without proper pay awards

These incentives are well-meaning with the aim of filling staffing gaps and, in turn, improving patient care. However, the cash awards are short-term, local fixes to what is the long-term and national issue of nurses’ pay, and their recruitment and retention.

Nursing doesn’t need flashy ‘golden hellos’ but rather what we could call ‘please stays’ – proper pay awards that are consolidated and fair.

The incentives are a sign of how desperate employers are to recruit staff, given the nursing vacancy rates in England running at over 43,000, with almost 11% of posts unfilled. And that’s just in the NHS.

This should act as a clarion call to government, but chances are ministers will ignore it or just be thankful employers are putting sticking plasters on what is a chronic wound.

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High nurse vacancy rates are a UK-wide issue

The recruitment and retention crisis is UK-wide. In Northern Ireland, where there are around 3,000 nursing vacancies, a decision was recently made to cut 300 nursing student places. This, against a backdrop of appalling financial pressures that RCN Northern Ireland director Rita Devlin described as the worst she had seen in her career, and a possible reason to return to the picket lines.

Meanwhile in England, NHS staff in the RCN are being balloted again about taking industrial action over pay. Currently, many nurses feel their pay is very far from golden – more like silver-plated and woefully tarnished through years of neglect.

Every one of you deserves better.

Flavia Munn is Nursing Standard editor