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Fair Pay for NHS Staff

Jon Skewes, Director for Policy, Employment Relations and Communications
29 March, 2017

Fair Pay for NHS Staff

Yesterday, the NHS Pay Review Body published their 30th Report calling for NHS staff to be paid a 1% uplift for 2017/18. This is following the announcement by the Government that pay restraint will continue to 2020 with the Government capping the award the NHS Pay Review Body is allowed to recommend at 1%.

The Scottish and Welsh Governments have announced that they will give a higher increase for lower paid staff with the Scottish Government giving an extra £400 to staff earning less than £22,000 a year (full time salary) and the Welsh Government making a commitment to pay the Living Wage. However all other staff in Scotland and Wales and all staff in England will only get a 1% uplift. The RCM have been clear that while we welcome a higher increase for lower paid staff a 1% uplift is not good enough. To continue with pay restraint for seven years is a disastrous decision for maternity services and for the NHS. We have made the case that all NHS staff deserve a fair pay rise; below-inflation increases for the past seven years have caused midwives’ pay to drop in value by over £6,000 since 2010. We have consistently argued that it is unsustainable for this to continue. This month saw CPI inflation climb to 2.3% and RPI inflation to 3.2%, while both are set to rise even further this is significantly above the 1% pay award announced today. This effectively results in a pay cut for midwives and other frontline clinical staff.

We presented extensive evidence to the NHS Pay Review Body which included results from our annual survey of heads of midwifery, a survey of why midwives leave and the results of a freedom of information request into agency, bank and overtime spending. We presented evidence that showed there is currently a shortage of 3,500 midwives in the NHS and there are many more midwives debating leaving midwifery because the staffing and workload pressures are challenging midwives’ ability to give high quality, safe care to women and their families. However, our evidence showed that 80% of midwives who are intending to leave or have left the service tell us they would be persuaded to stay if their pay was higher. We have said that the Government need to intervene now to retain much-needed staff before it is too late. The NHS Pay Review Body cited the RCM’s evidence many times in their report and in particular, their chapter on morale, motivation and engagement focused on just two professional groups: ambulance workers and midwives. The focus on midwives is a testament to the strength of the RCM’s evidence.  

It is worth noting that the NHS Pay Review Body repeatedly criticise the Government’s policy of NHS pay restraint in their report saying it is coming under stress which is unsustainable. They said: “We are concerned that, in too many places, the default strategy to deal with significant increases in patient demand within a slowly increasing budget is by expecting NHS staff to work more intensively, in more stressful working environments, for pay that continues to decrease in real terms. We do not consider this a sustainable position”.

Back in 2014 we made the historic decision to take industrial action for the first time in our 134 history over Jeremy Hunt’s decision to reject the NHS Pay Review Body’s recommendation in England. After two periods of industrial action and significant campaigning lasting for over nine months, the RCM won our dispute when we (working with other NHS trade unions) entered into negotiations with the government and the government agreed to pay the uplift to staff. That was a long, hard-fought campaign and the RCM took a leading role, particularly because we mounted successful industrial action for the first time but also in the way we led the campaign’s political lobbying work and the negotiations of the final deal. Let’s be clear – there were specific circumstances that led to us taking industrial action. Firstly, Jeremy Hunt crossed a red line by acting entirely unreasonably and rejecting the NHS Pay Review Body’s recommendation in England (while Scotland and Wales honoured the agreement); secondly we had a good chance of winning our dispute because of the proximity to the 2015 general election; and thirdly, we were part of a coordinated trade union campaign in which other trade unions (Unison, GMB, Unite and SoR) also took industrial action. We will consider the RCM’s position in relation to the pay announcement for 2017/18 and talk to other trade unions so that we have a coordinated position across the UK.

It is our view that in continuing with their policy of pay restraint the Government is acting recklessly given the current shortage of staff and the two staffing crises that are looming on the horizon. Namely the introduction of tuition of fees for new midwifery students and the uncertain future of staff from other EU countries. We want to return to the NHS Pay Review body making genuinely independent recommendations instead of the Government capping the process before it has begun. We want the Government to take notice of the evidence that the RCM, and other NHS trade unions, put to the NHS Pay Review Body and show they understand the seriousness of the staffing crisis in the NHS and work to retain existing NHS staff in the service. The NHS is reliant on midwives’, maternity support workers’ and all other NHS staffs’ goodwill and the Government must start to recognise that. We want the Government to show all NHS staff they are valued by giving them a fair pay rise that is in line with inflation. Investment in staff is an investment in high quality, safe care.

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