Patients and pay: meeting the demand

Last month thousands of health workers, including paramedics, took part in the first strike over pay in 32 years.

Workers from seven trade unions were involved in the strike, which lasted from 07:00 to 11:00 BST in England on 13 October.

The dispute came as ministers in England chose to ignore a recommendation from the independent NHS Pay Review Body which called for a 1% pay rise for all staff (UNISON, 2014). The Government claimed that an across-the-board 1% increase in pay was an ‘unaffordable cost’, with the NHS Employers organisation estimating the resulting increase in expenditure would amount to approximately £500 million.

Instead it was announced that staff eligible for incremental ‘progression pay’ increases on the Agenda for Change framework, which usually average at 3.4%, would not receive a 1% rise on top of this. However, staff due to receive an incremental rise of less than 1% would have them lifted to 1%. This amounts to approximately 55% of NHS staff and covers almost one million workers.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme, Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt said that if all NHS staff were given a 1% pay rise, hospitals would have to sack 14 000 nurses and risk creating another Mid Staffs scandal (Riley-Smith, 2014). This would in turn jeopardise patient care as there would be fewer staff able to attend to the needs of patients.

However, UNISON have argued that the cutting of pay does not save jobs. It claims that last year more than 10 000 jobs were lost as a result of unnecessary structuring of the NHS in England, meaning that the Government in reality is making cuts to both pay and jobs (UNISON, 2014).

As demand for health services continues to grow year-on-year, a balance must be struck if the NHS is to continue to survive as a functional entity. While undoubtedly the patient and their needs must be put at the forefront, unrealistic expectations of staff and a corresponding lack of fair pay would mean this is not possible.

As a one-off payment, a 1% increase would not count towards payments for overtime, unsociable hours or pensions. Staff need to know that they are valued and therefore treated well if they are likely to remain in the NHS. By denying a pay rise the Government runs the risk of losing dedicated staff.

A further four-hour strike in England on 24 November has been announced in the hope that the Government will understand that this is a concern that will not disappear. However, as Mr Hunt continues to stand his ground, staff can only wait in hope to see if a resolution will be reached.

References

Riley-Smith B (2014) NHS strikes: 14,000 nurses would be sacked if we agreed to 1% pay rise, says Jeremy Hunt. The Telegraph. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/health/nhs/11158184/NHS-strikes-14000-nurses-would-be-sacked-if-we-agreed-to-1-pay-rise-says-Jeremy-Hunt.html (accessed 3 November 2014)

Unison (2014) NHS Pay 2014. http://www.unison.org.uk/at-work/health-care/key-issues/nhs-pay/what-is-the-issue/#jobs (accessed 31 October 2014)

Taken from Journal of Paramedic Practice, published 7 November 2014.

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