Nurses union readies for strike action after government proposes 1% NHS staff pay rise

  • Video report by ITV News Political Correspondent Libby Wiener

The UK's largest nursing union is preparing for strike action in protest at the government's proposal to give NHS workers a pay rise of just 1%.

The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) said it had voted to set up a £35 million industrial action fund to support workers through a loss of earnings, should its members decide to strike.

The union, which represents 450,000 health care professionals, said an "emergency meeting" was held in the wake of the pay rise proposal, at which members of the RCN Council voted "unanimously" to set up the fund.

It said the next steps on whether to strike would be decided in conjunction with members and "further announcements will be made in the coming weeks".

The Unite union also said it would not rule out asking members about potential strike action.

Colenzo Jarrett-Thorpe, the union's national officer for its health sector wing, told ITV News that Unite would "look at all possible options including industrial action".

He added: "The time for clapping has stopped, now is the time to pay up."

The government is facing a furious backlash from nurses, doctors, health care unions, politicians and the public for proposing the pay rise, which will in real-terms will amount to a pay cut due to inflation.

Ministers defended the proposal, saying 1% was the most the government could afford at a time when the economy was under “huge pressure” as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

Downing Street defended the pay rise, saying it's what is "affordable".

Boris Johnson's spokesman said: "We recognise the impact Covid has had on the NHS and we want to honour this.

"But the pandemic has real consequences and we have done all that we can to protect jobs and save livelihoods.

"The recommended 1% pay rise for NHS staff is what is affordable while acknowledging their work and commitment over the last 12 months."

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer urged the government to give a pay rise to the NHS's "Covid heroes".

But health service unions denounced the proposed award as a “kick in the teeth” for staff who had given “absolutely everything” over the past year to keep the public safe.

The chief executive of the Royal College of Nurses said NHS staff will be "heartbroken and angry" by the marginal pay rise.

Dame Donna Kinnair told ITV News: "It does feel like a slap round the face really because actually it feel like we're very, very low on the government's priority."

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She said the 1% pay increase is "pitiful" and said she was "bitterly disappointed" by the news.

"Nursing staff coming off of a shift, tired, already demoralised, working hard, will be heartbroken and angry," she added.

Health Minister Nadine Dorries, a former nurse herself, said she was "pleasantly surprised" to learn about the proposed pay rise, when speaking to the BBC, telling ITV News that the 1% offer was made because it is all the government can afford.

Tory MP Dan Poulter, a former health minister and practising NHS doctor, criticised the pay rise, labelling it "economically illiterate as a policy", adding: "We need to have a rethink at a moral and economic level."

Dr Rachel Clarke, a palliative care doctor in the NHS, told how the pay rise "means a real-terms rise of just £3.50 per week", which she said is "disgusting".

Nurse Holly Turner said the suggested pay rise shows Heath Secretary Matt Hancock "has no intention of fighting" for NHS staff.

She told ITV News: "NHS workers up and down the country have been working so hard, they've been making sacrifices for the past 12 months.

"We entered the pandemic with a hundred thousand staff deficit and I think that the health secretary clearly has no intention of fighting for us, despite what he says. he clearly thinks that clapping and wearing a badge that says care is enough - well it's not."

Ms Dorries told Sky News: “Of course, we recognise the sacrifice and the commitment and the vocation of nurses and all health workers over the past year.

“We’ve all been touched by, or personally experienced, help by NHS workers.

“But I think it is important to note that the priority of the Government has been about protecting people’s livelihoods, about continuing the furlough scheme, about fighting the pandemic, and we’ve put huge effort into that.

“We do not want nurses to go unrecognised – or doctors – and no other public-sector employee is receiving a pay rise, there has been a pay freeze.

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“But the 1% offer is the most we think we can afford which we have put forward to the pay review body.”

The move follows Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s announcement in last year’s spending review of a pay freeze for most public sector workers outside the NHS.

In its submission, the pay review bodies for NHS staff and for doctors and dentists, the Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC) said the NHS budget was based on a headline pay rise of 1%.

It suggested any award above that would require cuts to services with a “re-prioritisation” of funding within the service.

It said they needed to strike “the right balance between pay and staff numbers through systems of reward that are affordable and fit for purpose”.

Dr Chaand Nagpaul, who chairs the British Medical Association council, said it came as a “kick in the teeth” after a decade in which doctors had experienced real terms pay cuts of up to 30%.

“This is a total dereliction of the Government’s moral duty and obligation to a workforce that is keeping the NHS on its feet and patients alive,” he said.

A Government spokesman said ministers would “carefully” consider the recommendations of the pay review bodies when they report in late spring.

“Over one million NHS staff continue to benefit from multi-year pay deals agreed with trade unions, which have delivered a pay rise of over 12% for newly-qualified nurses and will increase junior doctors’ pay scales by 8.2%,” the spokesman said.

“Pay rises in the rest of the public sector will be paused this year due to the challenging economic environment, but we will continue to provide pay rises for NHS workers, on top of a £513 million investment in professional development and increased recruitment.”

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