Turn appreciation and applause for NHS staff into an early wage rise, say health unions

Public want health pay rise straight away

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, say health unions today (Friday).

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 – including UNISON, the Royal College of Nursing, the Royal College of Midwives, GMB, Unite and the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy – 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 prepares to remember everyone who’s died from coronavirus and give thanks for the NHS on its 72nd birthday this weekend.

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.”

Executive director for external relations at the Royal College of Midwives 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.”

Notes to editors:
– The letters to the Chancellor and Prime Minister were sent earlier this morning.
– The unions are asking the government to make funding available so that early pay rises can be awarded to NHS staff in all the devolved administrations.
– A number of NHS workers are available to speak to the media. Case studies include:

  • Kate Baker is a senior respiratory physiotherapist and practice education facilitator. Her role includes working in ITU as part of a small team of physiotherapists. Kate was redeployed to critical care when the pandemic hit. Because she works in a high-risk area, she’s not been able to see her parents because of the risk of infecting them. She said: “I’ve faced death in a way I never did in 17 years of working. But working so closely with all my other healthcare colleagues I’ve achieved some of the proudest moments of my career – helping the sickest of the sick walk again and return home to their families.”
  • Katie Hodgson is a mental health first aider for NHS Sheffield Clinical Commissioning Group. Her job includes helping staff with mental health issues to get the support they need. Katie has worked throughout the pandemic dealing with NHS and care staff arriving for drive-through swab tests and antibody blood tests. Katie says: “Everyone has stepped up during the pandemic from porters to admin staff. Pay is predominantly low in the NHS and many struggle. It can mean choosing between putting the heating on or having your tea.”
  • Daniella Pritchard is a sister at the Princess Alexandra Hospital in Harlow, Essex. She normally works in the day surgery team helping patients through elective procedures. During the pandemic she’s been redeployed to the intensive care unit, although she had to take five weeks off when she contracted Covid-19. She said: “Nurses don’t do the job because of the money, we do it because we’re passionate about looking after patients. But many struggle on the pay. If there’s a chance to get a rise, people deserve it – not just because of the pandemic, because of their hard work all year round.”
  • Karen Kearney is a bereavement officer at Liverpool Heart & Chest NHS Foundation Trust, giving advice to doctors and families when a patient dies. During the pandemic, her trust was taking overspill Covid-19 cases from other hospitals, as well as treating cardiac patients, meaning she was usually working seven days a week with days off only when cover was available. Karen said: “Visitors weren’t allowed so patients had to come into hospital alone. Often the last time people saw their loved ones was when they came in poorly. It was very difficult and emotional work. The government briefings were all about ‘we love the NHS’ and people were cheering for us. But now there’s a sense we’ve been forgotten about. A pay rise is needed now.”
  • Darren Tudor-Green is a health care assistant at the Royal Devon & Exeter Hospital, Darren usually works in urology but gave up his role and volunteered to look after Covid-19 patients. His husband also works for the NHS as a surgeon and contracted the virus. Darren said: “Throughout the pandemic I have worked hard to provide care for patients. We’re willing to put our lives on hold and on the line to ensure people get the best possible care when they need it most. The team in which I work is full of people who, even before the pandemic, put their jobs above everything else and they deserve to be recognised for that. I hope the government can see that we really are the key workers keeping the country running.”

-The 14 NHS unions 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, Royal College of Nursing, Society of Radiographers, UNISON and Unite.

Media contacts:
Liz Chinchen M: 07778 158175 E: l.chinchen@unison.co.uk
Guy Dennis T: 0207 647 3633 E: mediateamhq@rcn.org.uk
Shaun Noble M: 07768 693940 E: shaun.noble@unitetheunion.org
Rosa Parker-Hinton T: 0121 200 8018 E: pr@bda.uk.com
Martin O’Connor M: 07827 838697 E: martin.connor@cop.org.uk
Mercedes Broadbent M: 07976 702114 E: m.broadbent@miphealth.org.uk
GMB M: 07958 156846 E: press.office@gmb.org.uk
Lauren Connors M: 07771 765172 E: connorsl@csp.org.uk
RCM T: 0207 312 3456 E: media@rcm.org.uk