Above-inflation pay rise critical to resolving NHS staff crisis, says UNISON

Money worries are affecting the focus of NHS staff at work

Unless the government gives NHS staff an inflation-busting pay rise, health workers are likely to jump ship to find better paid work, ​warns UNISON ​today (Tuesday).

Many are so worried about money, they’re struggling to focus on their work as the cost-of-living crisis worsens, the union says.

A decent pay rise would go some way to easing financial concerns​ and convince staff to ​stay in their jobs​. This would help deal with treatment backlogs caused by the pandemic and get health services back on track, ​adds UNISON.

Research by the union shows that without a significant wage boost, what is already a workforce crisis in the NHS will worsen as staff seek more lucrative​, less stressful jobs ​on the high street and elsewhere.

A new survey carried out by UNISON of more than 9,000 health workers in England, found almost half (48%) are seriously considering leaving the NHS in the next year. Around one in six (16%) say they are looking for work elsewhere right now.

Of those seriously considering leaving, three fifths (61%) are attracted by better pay, while one in five (21%) are looking for less-pressured working conditions.

Around two thirds (68%) of NHS staff ​say they will look for other, better-paying work, if ​this year’s NHS pay ​award does not keep pace with the cost of living.

More than half (52%) said they are unable to concentrate at work because they are worrying about their finances.

These findings will be presented by ​health workers belonging to UNISON as they give evidence ​later today (Tuesday) to the NHS pay review body (PRB)​.

​NHS staff are due their 2022 pay increase this Friday (1 April), but government delays mean the PRB will not make its recommendation ​to government until May at the earliest.

The pay settlement for 2021 was finally announced ​last July – 111 days after staff should have seen their salary increase. UNISON says the process must be far speedier this time because ​health workers can’t afford to be left in the dark for so long with prices continuing to soar.

In a written submission to the PRB​, made jointly with other health unions, UNISON has already said an inflation-busting rise needs to be at the heart of an urgent retention package, designed to stop staff leaving ​. Such an exodus would have alarming consequences for patients​, say the unions.

The ​joint submission says this year’s pay rise must cushion health workers from soaring living costs and enable the NHS to hang on to, and attract, the staff essential for the post-Covid recovery.

The current rate of inflation – measured by the consumer prices index – stands at 6.2%. However​, the government says health workers should get less than half this amount (2-3%) in its submission to the pay review body. UNISON says this real-terms cut would bring misery to staff and patients alike.

UNISON head of health Sara Gorton said: “Staff in the NHS want to give the best care possible to patients. But all too often they’re consumed with worries about how they will feed their families, pay the bills and heat their homes.

“​In other parts of the economy, ministers have ​urged employers to pay more to attract and retain staff. The government ​must now follow its own advice.

“Otherwise​, the nurses, porters, paramedics, cleaners, healthcare assistants and all the other employees so vital to the UK’s health will be making tough decisions about whether to leave the jobs they love ​in the coming months.

“Staff need the reassurance and recognition of a decent pay rise right away. They can’t afford to be hanging around like they were last year, slipping further and further behind ​the cost of living.

“The government’s 3% proposal is looking more inadequate as the days pass, with inflation running so high and forecast to get ​significantly worse.

“The pandemic backlog in the NHS will take years to put right. Patients need to have confidence that the government is taking all steps to reduce waiting lists, including paying staff enough to keep them at work.”

Notes to editors:
– Although CPI is included here, another measure the retail price index (RPI) is more commonly used in pay setting and is currently running at 8.2%
– Other findings in UNISON’s NHS staff survey included: more than a third (39%) have had to ask family or friends for financial support in the last year. Six in ten (63%) of NHS staff feel they are not paid at the right grade, and more than two fifths (43%) of staff say they are taking on additional work to make ends meet.
– Comments from the UNISON panel giving evidence at today’s PRB session:
Paramedic Bryn Webster said: “All jobs in the ambulance service are under huge pressure – control room staff are dealing with more calls, shifts for 999 crews have been getting longer, and not hitting our targets means we’re seeing more people whose condition has worsened while they’re waiting for us. Long hours are adding up to more stress, and vacancies in other parts of the system mean our queues go up and up. Something’s got to give.”
Registered nurse Wilma Brown said: “There are simply not enough of us to give our patients the standard of care they deserve. Seeing the number of vacancies go up while waiting lists get longer feels overwhelming. A decent pay rise would give us hope that things will get better – for ourselves, our teams and the people who need us.”
Pharmacy worker Roz Norman said: “I work at a trust with an ‘outstanding’ rating, and even we’re struggling to hang on to people. With a big distribution centre offering rates well in excess of the living wage, our care assistants and support workers have more options now than ever before – and, unless we get a decent pay rise, they’ll be taken.”
– In addition to an inflation-proofed pay rise, the joint unions’ emergency retention package calls for earnings of the lowest paid workers to be boosted above real living wage rates, and for any extra shifts worked to be rewarded fairly. The unions also want to see limits on excessive hours to prevent burnout.
– UNISON is the UK’s largest union, with more than 1.3 million members providing public services in education, local government, the NHS, police service and energy. They are employed in the public, voluntary and private sectors.