The ministers are on a collision course with millions of NHS employees as they insisted the country could not afford a more than 1% wage increase for health workers, even as nurse leaders raised the possibility of a strike.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock insisted on Friday that the decision to recommend such a small increase was due to an assessment of “what is affordable as a nation” after the economic cost that the coronavirus crisis has caused.
But amid the fury of the entire public sector, some Conservative MPs expressed fears that the government was heading for a U-turn similar to that of free school meals.
When asked repeatedly at a Downing Street news conference about the plan, announced Thursday to an angry response from the unions, Hancock argued that he had gotten a good deal for NHS staff and said he was “very satisfied” with they would have been excluded from a larger public sector. pay freeze.
Asked about his repeated praise of NHS workers during the course of the pandemic, Hancock insisted that he could not be more generous: “We have affordability issues due to the consequences of the pandemic on public finances, which settled in the budget this week. “
Hancock also scrapped the idea of a one-time payment for health workers in recognition of their work in the pandemic, as promised by the Scottish government to its workforce, saying that this “is not the approach we have chosen to take.”
Responding to a question from the Nursing Times about a possible staffing crisis if demoralized nurses quit in large numbers, Hancock said his grandmother had been a nurse in Lincolnshire, adding: “I bow to no one in my admiration for nurses.”
The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) has described the 1% figure as regrettable, holding an emergency meeting that agreed to establish a £ 35 million fund to support members in the event of a strike.
While this doesn’t make industrial action inevitable, it illustrated the strength of sentiment among NHS workers, with the British Medical Association and unions representing other staff equally furious.
The NHS Confederation, which represents hospital trusts and other organizations, expressed alarm at the prospect of a strike. “This is not the scenario that everyone would want, but this clearly shows the depth of sentiment at RCN,” said CEO Danny Mortimer.
In another sign of the looming public relations battle, the Unison union is hosting a public applause for this Thursday night to protest the pay offer, mimicking the weekly applause for NHS staff amid the first shutdown of Covid.
A Conservative MP said he had already been contacted by voters angry about the payment decision, which he called “a shocking public relations move, apart from anything else.”
Another deputy said about the policy: “It cannot be sustained,” saying the government should have opted for an increase of up to 3% for lower-paid front-line staff.
NHS Providers, another membership organization for hospital trusts and health services, has challenged Downing Street’s insistence that 1% is all that can be paid, pointing to the fact that a long-term budget plan agreed in 2019 included financing a 2.1% salary increase in 2021/22.
While the calculations were made before the economic damage from Covid, said Saffron Cordery, deputy director of NHS Providers, it would be wrong for the government to “snatch planned pay increases out of the pockets of deserving NHS staff” to make up for the shortfall.
The 1% figure, which is for staff across the UK, will now be considered by the Physicians and Dentists Remuneration Review Body, and also by the NHS salary review body, which covers nurses and other staff. Both are expected to report in May, with final decisions made by Hancock or the corresponding decentralized administration.
While pay increases have been more generous in recent years (a 2018 deal gave nurses and other healthcare personnel a pay increase of at least 6.5% over three years), this followed a close pay freeze. for seven years during the period of austerity policies. Official inflation forecasts also expect inflation to rise above 1% this year and next.
The TUC said on Friday that its analysis showed that the cumulative effect was that if the 1% increase takes place for 2021-22, the nurses’ salary will be £ 2,500 less than in 2010 when adjusted for inflation, with Equivalent falls of £ 3,330 for paramedics. and £ 850 for porters. A 1% increase would be “a severe blow to staff morale,” said TUC Secretary General Frances O’Grady.
Downing Street has also defended the offer as “what is affordable,” while refusing to rule out any eventual increase at all. “We will not pre-empt the recommendations of the independent salary review bodies,” said Boris Johnson’s spokesman.
Some Conservative MPs have speculated that the 1% figure could end up being an opening offer, intended to limit any increase, given RCN’s request for a 12.5% increase. “It is better to draw the line closer to the start than to the end of the race, to stop the snowball,” said one.
Another Tory supporter said much would depend on the upcoming political battle, with Labor hoping to “turn it into another free school meal” when the government backed down over the provision of vacations after a campaign led by footballer Marcus Rashford.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism