Expert advice

Even the suggestion of a pay freeze for nurses will hurt recruitment chances

The profession’s image is at an all-time high and the government has backed off a possible pay freeze, but promises don’t last long in politics

Picture shows a woman looking at an electronic tablet displaying a page about careers in healthcare.
Picture: iStock

Is this the silver lining? Against the dark storm clouds of COVID-19, an apparent bright spot appeared, as interest in nursing as a career reportedly increased.

According to Health Education England (HEE), its Health Careers website has seen a 223% increase in the number of people ‘expressing an interest in a career in nursing’, with 74,475 people clicking on the nursing pages between 16 March and 15 April.

Clinical placement bottlenecks still limit expansion of training paces

Setting aside the question of just how committed all these people are to a future nursing career, the good news barely lasted a day or two before a double helping of cold showers.

Picture of a pound sign in a block of ice, symbolising a pay freeze.
Picture: iStock

First, universities highlighted the perennial problem of capacity issues and clinical placement bottlenecks as factors in limiting expansion of training places.

Second, and with unerring timing, a ‘leaked’ Treasury document suggested a two-year public sector pay freeze was being considered to help contain government expenditure in a major recession induced by COVID-19.

Leaks rarely happen by accident. This was most likely a deliberate attempt to test the water, to judge how much pushback there would be.

And there was certainly pushback, with people outraged by the proposal.

Will this make potential recruits reconsider a career in nursing?

Prime minister Boris Johnson has since reportedly ruled out a public sector pay freeze, but some reputational damage has already been done.

The leak served to remind experienced NHS nurses that they have already had a seven-year pay freeze in the past ten years.

That another pay freeze was even being considered in government circles while nurses are still working on the front line of the pandemic should also give pause for thought to anyone interested in a career in NHS nursing.

Promises don’t last long in politics. Nurses will have to continue to push back and remain vigilant when the dark clouds of COVID-19 eventually recede.

Otherwise, the Treasury might just rain on your parade.

View our COVID-19 resource centre

Picture of James Buchan, professor in the faculty of health and social sciences at Queen Margaret University, EdinburghJames Buchan is professor in the faculty of health and social sciences at Queen Margaret University, Edinburgh



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