Opinion

Without unsocial hours payments I may need a new career

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In its recent submission to the NHS Pay Review Body, the Department of Health called for unsocial hours payments to be scrapped. Already health secretary Jeremy Hunt will get a 9 per cent pay rise, while I got 0 per cent. Mr Hunt gets numerous perks for being health secretary, I get my unsocial hours payments. And now he wants to take those away.

Nursing is a career I love, and I believe strongly in the NHS. But this could be the final straw for me. This government has repeatedly kicked away at nurses; they have sidelined us, blamed us for their faults, and refused to give us all a 1 per cent pay rise. Now they want to snatch away our unsocial hours payments, offering us no compensation for working nights and weekends when the rest of the population is at home.

The government seems to have this strange fantasy that they can extend many NHS non-urgent services to seven days a week without any extra cost. But this move exposes that as a lie – they will fund this initiative by snatching the pay back from staff. The greatest resource the NHS has is its staff – our skills, our knowledge, our compassion, and our commitment – but yet again, we are treated like dirt.

The Department of Health claims that unsocial hours payments are ‘archaic’ and come from a time when most services were only delivered five days a week. I have been a nurse for 25 years, and the vast majority of nursing services are delivered 24 hours a day, seven days a week. So what on earth are they talking about?

Unsocial hours payments are recognition for working outside of the regular nine-to-five hours, and working when the vast majority of people are at home, including our partners and families. If NHS trusts provided free child care for staff, transport to and from work, and free meals while at work, maybe the Department of Health would have the beginning of an argument. But they don’t. All we get are our low level unsocial hours payments, and now they want to stop them. What next?

We have a chronic shortage of nurses in this country. How is making our pay even less attractive going to help address this? And why aren’t our nursing leaders shouting from the roof tops about this?

The government is trying to steal from nurses to pay for another poorly thought-out NHS change, and I am sure they will blame us when it fails. Nursing is a career I love, but if the government strips me of my unsocial hours payments, it will be a step too far for me and I might start to look for an alternative career. What is the point of staying in nursing when the government has no respect for us?

About the author

Drew Payne is a community staff nurse in north London