Health unions’ anger at prospect of another real-terms pay cut

Health unions have reacted angrily to the prospect that the Government could seek to impose another below-inflation pay rise on NHS staff next year.

The Guardian reported that unions and the NHS Confederation fear Health Secretary Steve Barclay will seek to limit next year’s rise for staff other than doctors and dentists to just 2%.

Although Mr Barclay did not set out a figure when he wrote to the pay review body last month, they believe that because the NHS budget for 2023-24 has been set, that is the amount he wants.

The paper said with a potential further 1% contingency, that could add up to 3% – although it would still be likely to provoke further unrest within the service.

The unions are already embroiled in a bitter dispute over this year’s award, which has seen walkouts by nurses and ambulance staff with more due this month.

Pat Cullen, the general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing (RCN), warned against another real-terms cutting, saying ministers should concentrate on resolving this year’s claim.

Industrial strike
Royal College of Nursing general secretary Pat Cullen (Peter Byrne/PA)

“Our dispute is about the NHS pay award for 2022-23, and we are deciding how to engage in discussions about the 2023-24 award,” she told the Guardian.

“Ministers need to resolve our dispute with them over this year’s award before they move on to next year’s.

“Inflicting a decade of real-terms pay cut misery on nursing should be more than enough without considering going down that road again next year.”

A GMB union official told the paper: “The Department (of Health and Social Care) has already sent its remit to the pay review body for next year and budgeted for a 2.1% pay increase.

“This is about a third of forecast inflation in 2023. The fundamental issue in the dispute is that NHS pay settlements have continuously been too low.”

In response, a Department of Health and Social Care spokesman said: “The Government hugely values and appreciates NHS staff and we have committed to give NHS workers a pay rise, asking the independent pay review bodies for recommendations on pay for staff in scope.

“This follows the acceptance of last year’s recommendations in full which saw the lowest earners in the NHS receive a 9.3% pay rise.

“We will consider the independent pay review bodies reports carefully when we receive them. The Government has not yet set out the position on affordability for 2023/24.”