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The Royal College of Nursing has written to the prime minister to demand an “honest dialogue” over the value of nurses ahead of the next round of formal pay talks.
The issue of nurse pay has become increasingly contentious for the government as the UK comes out of the other side of the peak of its coronavirus outbreak.
Rumours that a public sector pay freeze is being considered to help cover the large economic costs of the pandemic were met by fury by the nursing community last week.
As were subsequent comments made by health and social care secretary Matt Hancock that nurses had already received a “very significant” pay rise recently, quoting a figure of “over 15%”.
In a letter to Boris Johnson, RCN chief executive and general secretary Dame Donna Kinnair, and RCN chair of council Dee Sissons, said any discussion on nurse pay must be held “on the basis of facts”.
While the Agenda for Change pay deal did secure pay rises for most NHS nurses between 2018-19 and going into 2020-21, analysis suggests these gains have been outstripped by the rising cost of living.
The deal was secured after a hard-fought campaign by nurses and unions following seven years of public sector pay freezes and caps.
In the letter, Dame Donna and Ms Sisson said the “majority” of nursing staff “will not recognise” the 15% figure put forward by Mr Hancock.
“Discussing pay out of the context of costs of living, combined with a suggestion elsewhere last week of a pay freeze, are totally out of step with nursing need and public support,” they added.
“In 2018, we said that the pay deal was the bridge out of austerity that was needed. It would be right to acknowledge now what we said at the time – that more is needed to bring earnings in line with the cost of living, following so many years of pay restraint.”
They reminded Mr Johnson of the “substantial shortage of nursing staff” across health and care services and noted that the nation had “never better understood or recognised” the contribution of nurses to society.
“We urge you to recognise in public conversation that this is where nursing pay is today,” they concluded.
“An honest dialogue in preparation for the future pay round is the first step in valuing the nursing workforce we rightly celebrate.”
The next pay round will determine how nursing staff in the NHS in England are paid after April 2021.
The RCN’s letter to Mr Johnson in full:
Dear Prime Minister,
You have recently seen first-hand the professionalism and dedication of this nation’s nursing staff.
You will also know that we entered the pandemic with a substantial shortage of nursing staff – at least 40,000 registered nurse vacancies in the NHS England alone, not accounting for social care.
Nursing staff were struggling to cope with the pressures caused by the shortage, already starting to leave before retirement, and many may not feel able to stay in the profession after the potentially intolerable pressures they will have faced during this crisis.
This is not the time to be complacent. The two nurses who saved you are part of a highly-skilled workforce that must be made to feel recognised, supported and valued. And those making career choices must see nursing as an attractive option.
The nation has never better understood or recognised our contribution to society, and we welcome the public interest in nursing pay.
But the majority of nursing staff will not recognise the 15% figure quoted by the UK Secretary of State for Health and Care at the daily press briefing (Friday 15 May 2020). Discussing pay out of the context of costs of living, combined with a suggestion elsewhere last week of a pay freeze, are totally out of step with nursing need and public support.
In 2018, we said that the pay deal was the bridge out of austerity that was needed. It would be right to acknowledge now what we said at the time – that more is needed to bring earnings in line with the cost of living, following so many years of pay restraint.
Our research confirms that the average earnings for NHS staff have not kept pace with the cost of living since 2010. This is the reality that must be fully recognised in the public conversation about recognising and valuing nursing staff. Any “fight for that fair reward”, as your Health Secretary said, must begin on the basis of facts. This is the reality for current and future nursing staff making career choices.
We urge you to recognise in public conversation that this is where nursing pay is today. An honest dialogue in preparation for the future pay round is the first step in valuing the nursing workforce we rightly celebrate.
Dame Donna Kinnair Ms Dee Sissons
Chief Executive and General Secretary Chair of Council
Cc. Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, Rt Hon Matt Hancock MP