Voices from across the nursing community have responded with dismay to health and social care secretary Matt Hancock’s claim that nurses have received a “very significant” pay rise in recent years.
During Friday’s coronavirus briefing at No 10, Mr Hancock was asked by a member of the public if the government would take the pandemic as an opportunity to pay nurses what they deserve, amid rumours of a public sector pay freeze.
“I’ve heard we’ve had an amazing pay rise, which is misleading”
Mr Hancock answered: “I agree very strongly that nursing is a highly skilled profession and deserves decent pay.
“We put up nurses’ pay last month, and in fact last year we had the fastest rise, the biggest rise in pay, especially for beginner nurses who are starting their career, the lowest paid nurses got a pay rise – very significant – of over 15%.
“There has been a significant pay rise for nurses, and I think one of the things the crisis has shown is just how much the nation values our staff across the health and care system, including nurses.
“When it comes to how we reward their efforts in this crisis, what I can tell you is, as the health secretary, I will be making sure that we fight to have that fair reward.”
Mr Hancock’s comments have since been branded as “misleading”.
Dame Donna Kinnair, chief executive and general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, told Channel 4 News: “I’ve heard we’ve had an amazing pay rise […] which is misleading.
“We are still working extremely hard and very much so underpaid.”
Responding to Mr Hancock’s comments on social media, Nicki Credland, chair of the British Association of Critical Care Nurses, said: “Really??? I must have blinked and missed it.”
In 2018, a three-year pay deal was agreed for Agenda for Change staff in England, which includes NHS nurses, with similar deals implemented in Scotland and Wales. April 2020 marked the start of the final year of the deal.
While the deal did provide a boost to pay overall, when the gains are measured alongside inflation, nurses are actually worse off in 2020 than they were in 2010, according to independent fact-checking charity Full Fact.
In addition, the rise nurses received varied significantly depending on where they were on the Agenda for Change pay scale.
Well-known nursing activist Joan Pons Laplana took to social media to demonstrate how nurses’ pay had fallen behind inflation.
Over the course of 10 years, he found that nurses at the top of Band 5 had seen a real-terms pay decrease of around 20.14% and those at the top of Band 6 had experienced a 20.5% cut.
The post has been shared more than 1,200 times on Twitter.
Questions around nurse pay have been raised in the past several weeks as unions and nurse activists demand recognition for the work done during the coronavirus response and on a daily basis.
Nurses United, a recently-formed grassroots organisation, has taken part in protests outside Downing Street and has started a petition to demand better working conditions called Isn’t it time to Care for our Carers?
A leaked document from the Treasury last week revealed that the government may have to consider freezing pay for all public sector workers in order to reduce the £300bn coronavirus debt.
This strategy was condemned by union leaders, with Unison general secretary Dave Prentis calling it a “slap in the face to all of those we applaud each week”.
There are differences in nurse pay within bands depending on which UK nation they work in, for example nurses in Scotland receive marginally higher pay than those in the same band working in other UK nations.
In December 2019 and January 2020, nurses from across Northern Ireland took to the picket line to demand equal pay with their UK counterparts.
After successfully taking industrial and strike action, their pay was aligned with nurses in England.