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When will the magic money tree bear fruit for nurses?

The new government shows little sign of addressing nursing concerns such as shortstaffing

The new government shows little sign of addressing nursing concerns such as shortstaffing, patient safety and unpaid overtime

No magic money to tree to fund nurses pay increase
Picture: Alamy

Remember the ‘magic money tree’? In 2017, then prime minister Theresa May used it, or rather its absence, as a fiscal excuse. No magic money tree, no funded pay increase for NHS nurses.

We now have a new government and new prime minister Boris Johnson, but little sign of a more responsive approach to nursing concerns.

Funding, safe nurse staffing and patient safety have not figured in the rhetoric or action of the new government, which has other, Brexit-related priorities.

NHS continues to rely on the goodwill of nurses

In its 2019 report, published in July, the NHS Pay Review Body (RB) stated that ‘trends in the nursing workforce are a particular concern with increasing nursing vacancy rates’, highlighting the impact of staff shortages on patient safety.

The RB, which has been marginalised in recent years, concluded that the NHS continues to rely heavily on the goodwill of nurses and other staff to work overtime, often unpaid.

Boris Johnson's pledges for other public sector groups

Other public sector staff groups appear to be faring better under the new government; one of Boris Johnson’s leadership election pledges was the recruitment of 20,000 extra police officers in England and Wales over the next three years.

At the end of July, he said this recruitment drive will begin ‘within weeks’, with a Home Office-led campaign launching in September.  

The government has committed to fix the NHS pension anomalies that are causing senior doctors to reduce their hours or threaten to down tools.

There has been no sign of any similar action to respond to the problem of unpaid overtime for nurses.

Is the magic money tree bearing fruit?

The NHS in England has been promised £1.8 billion in ‘extra’ capital expenditure – is this the long-awaited appearance of the fabled magic money tree? Alas not. As soon as the funding was announced it was challenged as being, in part, money already in the system.

NHS Providers, which represents organisations providing NHS services, noted that some of the new spending ‘can legitimately be described as money that trusts already had but were told they couldn’t spend and are now able to spend’.

A different sort of fiscal magic altogether.

James Buchan, nursing workforce expertJames Buchan is professor in the faculty of health and social sciences at Queen Margaret University, Edinburgh



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