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Workforce: how UK nurses' pay compares with other countries

UK hospital nurse remuneration is ranked below the United States, Canada, Australia and most countries in north and west Europe, says James Buchan. 

UK hospital nurse remuneration is ranked below the United States, Canada, Australia and most countries in north and west Europe, says James Buchan 

In the autumn, the NHS Pay Review Body (RB) will take evidence from government, employers and nurses’ unions. It will then deliberate before making recommendations on what should be a pay rise in April 2017.

But as NHS nurses know only too well, this supposedly independent system has been compromised by top down pay freezes initiated by the Westminster government as part of its ‘austerity’ measures. 

If the current cap is imposed through to the end of its planned period, NHS nurses’ pay will have been centrally restrained for 10 years.

The RB has been sidelined from its independent role and now has to work within a cap, rather than free from constraints. 

The effect of pay bill capping was highlighted in the RB’s report for 2016. This noted that, for NHS staff in England, the annual pay bill had grown by 1.9% because of an increase in staffing numbers, but the average pay bill per full time equivalent staff actually decreased from the previous year.

Good news for the Treasury but not for the average NHS worker. 

Ongoing pressure

There is an understandable pressure building as NHS staff and their representatives argue they risk falling behind on pay comparisons. One way to compare is by looking at nurses pay in other countries. 

The below figure shows data on hospital earnings from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), converted into US dollars to allow a more direct comparison of purchasing power parity (PPP). 

Renumeration of hospital nurses

UK hospital nurse remuneration is ranked 15 out of 30 OECD countries, just above the OECD average but below the United States, Canada, Australia and most countries in north and west Europe. 

Although this data must be interpreted with some caution, by no means does it suggest that UK nurses are ‘overpaid’.

About the author

Jim Buchan

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

 

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