Act on pay and help the NHS, staff and patients, say health unions

UNISON and other unions discuss workforce crisis with health secretary

Unions representing more than a million staff working across the NHS have today (Tuesday) met with health secretary Steve Barclay to discuss the growing workforce crisis.

At the Westminster meeting this morning, the unions made clear that without urgent government action on wages, experienced health workers would continue to quit their jobs, and the NHS struggle to attract new staff in sufficient numbers.

Unions told the secretary of state that patient waits for treatment would carry on worsening, unless something was done about the dangerously low staffing levels affecting every part of the NHS. 

Decent wages are key to stopping employees leaving and to turning the NHS into an attractive employer for potential recruits, the unions urged.

The unions also warned that threats to cap wages next year would do nothing to fill the 132,000 vacancies across the NHS in England alone and would make a desperate staffing situation significantly worse.

Ministers must act now, invest in staff and services with an inflation-proofed wage rise, or be responsible for disputes across the NHS this winter that no one wants to see, urged the unions. 

Health unions await a date for the next meeting with the health secretary.

Commenting on today’s meeting, UNISON head of health and chair of the NHS unions Sara Gorton said: “There can be no solution to the damaging workforce crisis unless the government improves NHS pay. Without the staff to provide essential care, patients face excessive and lengthening waits to be seen.   

“Ministers must give the NHS urgent help and provide the cash for another wage rise. The alternative is multiple disputes in what could be the worst winter on record for the NHS. No one wants that. The government must try harder for all our sakes.”

Chartered Society of Physiotherapy assistant director and secretary of the ​NHS group of unions Elaine Sparkes said: “This is the first time that physiotherapy staff have been balloted over pay. This demonstrates how fearful they are about their ability to continue delivering high quality patient care if the government does not take urgent steps to address the workforce crisis.

‘Those steps must start with improving pay and putting an urgent retention package in place because we cannot afford to lose more staff if the NHS is to meet its enormous challenges.”

Unite national officer for health Colenzo Jarrett-Thorpe said: “The government must put forward a better pay deal and one that is not funded from already mercilessly squeezed budgets.

“The truth is that NHS workers can’t carry on like this. Waiting lists are lengthening and healthcare staff are leaving in alarming numbers. Unite is determined to win a better deal for our members.”

GMB national secretary Rachel Harrison said: “If the health secretary wants to stop an unprecedented winter of NHS strikes, he knows what to do.

“It’s not rocket science. Give NHS workers a proper pay rise, that means they don’t have to use food banks or quit the service in droves.

“By not paying staff properly, ministers are leaving the NHS unable to recruit and retain enough workers, putting patient safety at risk every day. Mr Barclay must listen to the concerns of health workers.”

Royal College of Midwives director for employment relations Alice Sorby said: “Our members do not take Industrial action lightly. Without urgent action to prevent the exodus of midwives, the staffing crisis in maternity services won’t be solved. There are almost 800 fewer midwives working in England’s NHS than at the last general election.

“Decent pay is absolutely key to retaining staff. We remain ready and willing to talk to the government about ways to retain staff through an urgent retention package. A proper pay award has to be central to this.”

RCN director of employment relations and legal services Jo Galbraith-Marten said: “We will only make progress through detailed discussions that seriously consider the concerns of nursing staff.

“Until the government recognises the need to pay nursing fairly, meetings will be ineffective. No nurse ever wants to strike, but we have been forced into this situation because low pay and workforce shortages are pushing nursing staff out of the profession and making care increasingly unsafe.

“Ministers can stop strike action by nursing staff at any point. Our door is always open.”

Notes to editors:
– The 14 NHS unions are: British Association of Occupational Therapists, British Dietetic Association, British Orthoptic Society, Chartered Society of Physiotherapy, Royal College of Podiatry, Federation of Clinical Scientists, GMB, Managers in Partnership, Prison Officers Association, Royal College of Midwives, Royal College of Nursing, Society of Radiographers, UNISON and Unite.
– In July, the government in Westminster announced that most NHS staff on Agenda for Change contracts (NHS terms and conditions) in England would get a pay rise of £1,400, in line with the recommendation of the NHS pay review body. This amounted to a 4.75% increase to the NHS pay bill. Health workers had been due a wage rise on 1 April 2022. Health workers in Wales got the same award. The health minister in Northern Ireland said he wanted to implement the same award but could not do so due to the political stalemate. This means NHS workers there have had no pay rise at all.
– The health unions either with a live strike mandate, who are in the middle of balloting or are planning to ballot for industrial action in the NHS include the Royal College of Midwives, the Royal College of Nursing, the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy, GMB and Unite.

Media contacts:
UNISON M: 07834 864794 E:
Chartered Society of Physiotherapy M: 07917 091200 E: