NHS unions say plans for 2% pay rise next year could mean more strikes | NHS

NHS strikes could continue for many months amid anger over UK government plans to raise staff wages by just 2% next year, which health unions have condemned as more “misery of wage reduction in real terms”.

Ministers have asked the NHS pay review body to cap pay increases for frontline health workers at 2% in 2023-24 to help the government achieve its ambition to curb the surge in coronavirus. ‘inflation.

But Health Secretary Steve Barclay’s attempt to cap annual wage increases at such a low level could lead to the NHS facing protracted industrial action, health service bosses warn. The 2% is barely a third of the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) estimate that CPI inflation will average 5.5% in 2023-24.

The 2% plan comes amid widespread strikes across the NHS to protest the government’s decision to give essential staff a raise of £1,400 – or around 4% – for 2022-23. In England, ambulance staff will go out again on January 11 and 23, while nurses must refuse to work on January 18 and 19, disrupting a wide range of services, including planned surgeries and outpatient appointments.

On November 16, Barclay wrote to the NHS pay review body, which advises ministers of the size of the raise staff, apart from doctors and dentists, who are expected to receive, giving them their mandate for the regulation 2023-24. Although it did not specify the 2% figure, the NHS Confederation Hospitals body, the Health Foundation think tank and several health unions all say the fact that the budget NHS England for 2023-24 has already been set means this is the sum Barclay is keen to see awarded, with a 1% contingency, potentially making it a 3% increase. Either sum is likely to cause further unrest among NHS staff.

Pat Cullen, General Secretary of the Royal College of Nursing (RCN), said: “Our dispute is over the NHS pay price for 2022-23, and we are deciding how to enter into discussions on the 2023-24 price. Ministers need to resolve our dispute with them over this year’s prize before moving on to next year’s.

But in direct response to the proposed 2% hike, she added: ‘Inflicting a decade of misery in real terms of pay cuts on nursing should be more than enough without considering going down that path again next year.’

Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, urged Barclay not to try to impose such a small, below-inflation increase for the second year in a row.

“The unions are calling for a pay rise for NHS staff that is above current levels of inflation, which 2-3% would not be enough. If the government is to avoid the prospect of prolonged industrial action this year, it must be prepared to negotiate over wages and both sides must be willing to compromise,” Taylor said.

Anita Charlesworth, director of research at the Health Foundation, said: ‘The NHS budget for next year has been set by the government on the basis that health service staff would receive a 2% increase in the next pay cycle. This would be less than half of expected inflation and less than [OBR’s] official forecast for economy-wide profit growth of 3.5%. »

A 2% reward would risk exacerbating the worsening NHS staffing crisis, she added. “The result would be that NHS workers would face a further reduction in their real earnings. At a time when vacancies are rising, this would mean NHS wages would fall further compared to other sectors, with risks to recruitment and retention.

In her letter to Philippa Hird, chair of the NHS pay review body, Barclay reminded her that “the NHS budget has already been set until 2024-25”.

He said: “Wage rewards must strike a careful balance – recognizing the vital importance of public sector workers while delivering value for the taxpayer, taking into account private sector pay levels, not increasing further the country’s debt and making sure not to drive prices even higher in the future.

And in the advice underpinning the likely 2% offer, the Health Secretary added: ‘In the current economic climate, it is particularly important that you also consider the government’s inflation target when making recommendations.”

NHS England cannot easily increase the 2%. He is under pressure to use his budget to tackle the backlog of 7.2million people waiting for hospital care and the intense pressure the whole service is under. This, together with the fact that ‘NHS spending is set to rise from an all-time low next year’, means it has ‘little or no leeway to fund additional wage costs [beyond the 2%]with the government holding a potential reserve for a further 1% increase,” Charlesworth said.

A GMB union official said: “The ministry [of Health and Social Care] has already sent its terms of reference to the pay review body for next year and has budgeted for a 2.1% pay rise. This is around a third of expected inflation in 2023. The fundamental problem in the dispute is that NHS wage settlements have always been too low.

However, Rishi Sunak and Jeremy Hunt, the Chancellor, have ruled out increasing this year’s £1,400 offer as they want to hold back on public sector wages to help the Tories regain a reputation for competence economic.

Hunt ruled out a one-time extra payment to nurses in an attempt to end the government’s increasingly bitter standoff with the MRC, even though such a move is popular with voters.

The Department of Health and Social Care has said it has not yet decided what pay rise for NHS staff for 2023-24 it can afford. “The government values ​​and values ​​NHS staff immensely and we are committed to giving NHS workers a pay rise, asking independent pay review bodies to make recommendations on the pay of affected staff,” said one. DHSC spokesperson.

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

“We will carefully review reports from independent compensation review bodies when we receive them. The government is yet to define its position on affordability for 2023/24.

theguardian Gt

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