Public wants government to deliver an above-inflation wage rise for NHS staff, poll shows

Almost three in five people would support industrial action over health pay

More than half (55%) the public believe that an above-inflation pay rise for NHS staff of more than 9% would be a fair increase, according to a Savanta ComRes poll published today (Monday).

The research on behalf of 13 of the UK’s health unions – between them representing around a million NHS staff – shows this compares with just over a quarter (28%) of people who say a below-inflation rise would be fair. Seven in ten (69%) back a wage increase of more than 5%.

Almost three in five (58%) UK adults believe health workers would be justified in taking industrial action if the government pay award in England is below inflation, according to the findings.

This compares with 29% of people who say NHS staff would not have grounds for taking strike action if there is a below-inflation pay award.

The health unions believe the results show people want the Prime Minister to commit to a significant wage increase for all healthcare staff including nurses, physiotherapists, radiographers, midwives, cleaners, porters, paramedics, dieticians and administrators as living costs soar.

The survey of more than 2,000 people shows the vast majority agree fair wages are crucial in tackling the NHS staffing crisis, which is a major factor in growing waiting lists, ambulance delays and patient care overall.

More than four in five (85%) adults agree that decent pay is essential to health workers staying in the NHS and to patient care improving.

A similar proportion also agree that the government should be doing more to stop health staff leaving the NHS (84%) – and that waiting lists will grow, and delays lengthen – without government action on NHS staffing (84%). More than four in five (83%) agree resolving staffing problems should be the top NHS priority for the government.

UNISON head of health and chair of the NHS group of unions Sara Gorton said: “The prime-ministerial merry-go-round and government delays shouldn’t stop a wage rise for staff. Health workers struggling to pay bills have been waiting months for the increase they should have received back in the spring.

“The public clearly supports an above-inflation pay rise across the NHS. People say they would also be behind NHS staff should they opt for strike action if a decent increase isn’t forthcoming. Ministers must act now rather than stumble into a dispute no-one wants to see.

“The government must find the money needed or risk worsening the current staffing crisis and ​lengthening test and treatment waits for patients.”

Chartered Society of Physiotherapy assistant director and secretary of the NHS group of unions Elaine Sparkes said: “The NHS has a workforce crisis, and it is unthinkable that the government could be considering making this worse through a pay rise that falls far below inflation.

“That would cause further staff to leave and place ever-greater strain on those who remain, while increasing waiting times for patients.

“The government must step up with an above-inflation pay rise that helps recruit, and most importantly retain, the workforce patients desperately need.”

Notes to editors: 
– The poll was carried out by Savanta ComRes who surveyed 2,073 UK adults between 1 and 3 July 2022. Data were weighted to be demographically representative of all UK adults. Savanta ComRes is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules. Full tables are available here.
– Case studies (names have been changed):
Sarah, an NHS community phlebotomist in the North West, said: “This is the best job I’ve ever had but I can’t afford to stay. Fuel costs have risen at least a third. I’ve had to choose to spend on fuel for work instead of driving to visit my disabled parents. It’s a terrible decision to make but I have to keep earning. I may have to return to bank work in A&E because I’d only be paying parking charges. My job involves doing blood tests that determine what drugs people with cancer and other life-threatening conditions should be taking. Patients will suffer because the NHS won’t be able to retain staff.”
Louise, a healthcare assistant in Yorkshire and Humberside, said: “I’m paid just above the minimum wage after 21 years in the NHS. I’m at the top of my pay band so can’t earn more unless there’s a wage rise. My monthly shop has doubled in cost, and energy bills are the highest ever. Yet my salary isn’t keeping up. I work day and night shifts in a labour ward and am now on anti-depressants to get through the long hours. I’ve been thinking about retirement but can’t afford to. I’ll have to work until I drop.”
James, a care support worker in the West Midlands, said: “Childcare costs are so unaffordable that my wife does nights on an acute ward while I work days in mental health care. We rely on her unsocial hours payments to make ends meet and had to change our car for a smaller one to reduce petrol costs. We think about everything we buy despite both having jobs. Pay hasn’t progressed enough to ensure we can afford to live. I sometimes wonder if I’d be better off stacking supermarket shelves.”
– Health workers were due a pay rise at the beginning of April but are still waiting. The government’s evidence to the NHS pay review body (PRB) proposed a ​maximum pay rise of 3% this year for health workers in England. The Prime Minister has not yet disclosed the PRB recommendations. Unions are hoping there will be an announcement before Parliament breaks up for its summer recess next week.
– The 13 NHS unions ​representing staff on Agenda for Change terms ​who commissioned the polling are: British Association of Occupational Therapists, British Dietetic Association, British Orthoptic Society, Chartered Society of Physiotherapy, College of Podiatry, Federation of Clinical Scientists, GMB, Managers in Partnership, Prison Officers Association, Royal College of Midwives, Society of Radiographers, UNISON, and Unite.