Unions representing more than 1.3 million NHS workers have written to the government calling for talks to begin on a pay rise to take effect before the end of the year to reflect the efforts of staff during the coronavirus pandemic.
In letters sent to the prime minister and the chancellor on Friday, as the nation prepares to give thanks to the NHS on its 72nd birthday, the 14 unions say the government should build on the huge public support for staff during the Covid-19 crisis and deliver an early pay rise.
Health workers are nearing the end of a three-year pay deal and the unions say a fair increase would show how much nurses, cleaners, physiotherapists, healthcare assistants, porters and other employees are valued.
The unions, including Unison, the Royal College of Nursing (RCN), the Royal College of Midwives (RCM), GMB and Unite, stress that the increase should also include support for private contractors, such as domestic workers and security guards.
Unison’s head of health, Sara Gorton, who chairs the NHS group of unions, said: “Throughout lockdown the public has seen the immense dedication, commitment and compassion shown by NHS staff, and now expects them to be rewarded. As the clapping returns this weekend for the NHS’s birthday, ministers can show how much they value health staff by committing to an early pay rise that the entire country supports.”
Before the three-year pay deal agreed in 2018, which was worth at least 6.5% and excluded doctors, NHS workers had gone through seven years of 1% rises or pay freezes under David Cameron’s government. The RCN has calculated that the average salary for a nurse has fallen by 8% in real terms since the Conservatives came to power in 2010.
The RCN’s Hannah Reed, the acting secretary to the health unions’ group, said the praise lavished on staff was “already beginning to feel hollow. An earlier pay rise will go some way to showing the government values all they do, not just this year but day in, day out. Proper recognition and pay to match it will go some way to addressing the number of unfilled jobs.”
The RCN said in March that there were 40,000 nursing vacancies in health and care settings in England alone. The unions say that as well as making staff feel more valued, a pay rise would help boost the flagging economy by increasing spending power.
Jon Skewes, the executive director for external relations at the RCM and treasurer for the NHS group of unions, said: “To truly value the contribution of NHS staff, their pay must be restored in real terms. Currently there are staff shortages right across the NHS and the government should be doing all it can to retain and attract new staff. This is not an ask for an additional ‘pandemic payment’, but rather a pay deal that will ensure our NHS is fit for the future.”
Katie Hodgson, a mental health first aider for NHS Sheffield clinical commissioning group, has worked throughout the pandemic dealing with NHS and care staff arriving for drive-through swab tests and antibody blood tests. “Everyone has stepped up during the pandemic from porters to admin staff,” she said. “Pay is predominantly low in the NHS and many struggle. It can mean choosing between putting the heating on or having your tea.”
No 10 and the Treasury have been approached for comment.