As the country celebrates the NHS, health unions say: “Time for a pay rise”

The government should build on the huge public support shown for the NHS during the pandemic by giving health workers across the UK an early pay rise, health unions have said.

The 14 unions – representing more than 1.3 million nurses, cleaners, physiotherapists, healthcare assistants, dieticians, radiographers, porters, midwives, paramedics and other NHS employees – have written both to the Chancellor and the Prime Minister calling for pay talks to start soon so staff get a wage boost before the end of the year.

In the letters, the unions – BAOT, BDA, BOS, CSP, College of Podiatry, Federation of Clinical Scientists, GMB, Managers in Partnership, POA, RCM, RCN, SoR, UNISON and Unite – say the pandemic has made the dedication and commitment of NHS staff plain for all to see.

But now the public wants the government to turn its appreciation of health staff into something more substantial, say the letters. The unions’ call comes as the UK remembers everyone who’s died from coronavirus and gives thanks for the NHS on its 72nd birthday today.

Health workers are nearing the end of a three-year pay deal. Unions are urging the government to provide the funding for a fair and early pay rise for all NHS staff – including the many domestics, catering workers, security guards and other support staff working for private contractors.

A fair wage increase would help staff feel valued after the huge pressures and challenges faced in recent months. There would also be a boost to the economy as health workers spend the extra money in their pockets on local high streets, say unions.

Improvements to staff pay would enable the NHS to hold onto experienced workers – including many who’ve returned to its service during the pandemic. An early rise would also help with the recruitment of new staff needed to fill the many vacancies across every ward, team, department and clinic, say the letters.

Ministers must not see the appeal for NHS workers to get an early pay rise as a Covid bonus, say unions. The three-year deal agreed in 2018 was simply the start of making up for the pay freezes and wage caps of previous years.

UNISON head of health Sara Gorton, who also chairs the NHS group of unions, said: “The applause and kind words shown during the difficult days of the pandemic were a huge source of comfort to NHS staff. But now the government should show its appreciation in a different way.

“Throughout lockdown, the public has seen the immense dedication, commitment and compassion shown by NHS staff, and now expects them to be rewarded.

“As the clapping returns this weekend for the NHS’ birthday, ministers can show how much they value health staff by committing to an early pay rise that the entire country supports.”

Hannah Reed from the RCN, who is also acting secretary to the health unions’ group, said: “Across the NHS, nursing and healthcare staff are still working harder than ever. These people are the country’s greatest asset. When we celebrate that, politicians must think about how staff can be fairly paid and valued.

“They do not need more warm words and praise that, to many, is already beginning to feel hollow. An earlier pay rise will go some way to showing the government values all they do, not just this year but day in, day out. Proper recognition and pay to match it will go some way to addressing the number of unfilled jobs.”

RCM executive director for external relations Jon Skewes, who is also treasurer for the NHS group of unions, said: “Midwives and all NHS staff deserve a fair and decent pay rise. They did before this pandemic and they certainly do now. To truly value the contribution of NHS staff, their pay must be restored in real terms.

“Currently there are staff shortages right across the NHS and the government should be doing all it can to retain and attract new staff.

“This is not an ask for an additional ‘pandemic payment’, but rather a pay deal that will ensure our NHS is fit for the future. We hope by bringing this pay settlement forward this can be achieved.”

GMB national officer Rachel Harrison said: “The public recognised our members’ worth from the start, coming out to clap for our carers every Thursday. Now it’s time for government to do the same. This is not a covid-19 bonus, but their efforts during this pandemic do need to be recognised.

“The least ministers can do is reverse the decade of real terms pay cuts their government imposed. As lockdown measures ease and people try to return to ‘normal’, nothing changes for our healthcare workers. Covid-19 is still here, PPE is still an issue, testing is still an issue.”

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