Everybody recognises the outstanding work NHS staff have done throughout the last year in the most difficult of circumstances. They rose to the challenge to provide the best possible care for patients as the Covid-19 stretched the capacity of the NHS like never before.
Due to the dramatic increase in public spending due to the pandemic, funding the furlough scheme for example, all but the lowest paid workers across the public sector have had their pay frozen for 2021/22. However, against that backdrop, the Government have recommended a pay rise of 1% for NHS workers to the independent pay review bodies. The pay review bodies will look at this, and take evidence from a wide range of sources, before making their recommendations to the Government.
The wider context of this is important. This recommendation does not affect NHS staff grades and annual increments which increase pay. This recommendation also follows a multi-year pay deal, which over a million NHS staff have benefited from and which includes a pay rise of over 12% for newly qualified nurses, with the average nurse now paid £34,000 per year, and junior doctors' pay increased by 8.2%.
There has also been a significant increase in investment to the NHS, with a £6.2 billion increase for 2021-22, as part of the extra £34 billion commitment by 2024-25, and a £3 billion ‘NHS recovery package’ which includes £1 billion to tackle growing waiting lists for planned care, £500 million to support mental health services, and £1.5 billion to ease existing pressures in the NHS caused by Covid-19.
Furthermore, the number of staff in the NHS in increasing, with over 6,500 more doctors, almost 10,600 more nurses, and over 18,700 more health support workers in the NHS now than a year ago.
I was proud to play my part in this increased investment during my time as Minister of State for Health, where I particularly focused on increasing retention of current NHS staff. Retention is as important as recruitment, as it means the NHS can continue to benefit from the wide range of skills and experiences staff bring.
However, I do completely understand that many view that this recommendation is inadequate compensation for an extremely difficult year, and I hope the pay review bodies will reflect on this point. The Prime Minister has already promised to consider any alternative proposals from the independent body.
If following the report of the pay review bodies the level of increase is set at 1%, then I believe the Government should look into alternative means of recognising the extraordinary work of NHS staff over the last year. This could take the form of a ‘thank you’ bonus, additional annual leave, reducing the costs of car parking for NHS staff and the congestion charge.
These ideas are in no way exhaustive. I am speaking soon with local members of the Royal College of Nursing and look forward to hearing their views, and from this making representations to the Secretary of State for Health.