Doctors and nurses may still pursue strike action regardless
The Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC) originally told the independent NHS Pay Review Body in March it could only afford a 1 per cent pay rise this year for doctors, nurses and other NHS workers.
Given this was both less than expected inflation and less than the rise forecast in the NHS’s long term plan, the offer provoked outrage from health unions.
However, ministers are reportedly preparing to up their proposal to 3 per cent, according to multiple reports, in a bid to stave off the threat of strikes by doctors and nurses.
The Royal College of Nursing’s (RCN) demand was for pay to be boosted by 12.5 per cent, so it remains unclear if 3 per cent is high enough to placate NHS staff.
At the time, Boris Johnson insisted the government simply could not afford to increase NHS pay by more than 1 per cent given the state of the public finances as a result of the pandemic.
But health unions said it was insulting to offer a de facto pay cut to NHS workers after they had spent a year working extraordinarily long hours battling Covid at great personal risk.
The RCN said in response it would set up a £35m fund to prepare to support nurses through any future strike action, while the Unite union said the government had shown “unyielding contempt” for those who had cared for the nation during the pandemic.
Doctors, who have demanded a 5 per cent pay rise, have also threatened to stop doing overtime, which could cripple hundreds of NHS services.
One of the nurses personally thanked by Mr Johnson for helping save his life when he contracted coronavirus last year, Jenny McGee, announced in May she was resigning because of the low pay offer.
It now seems likely months of growing unease by Conservatives, concerned that the backlash to the one per cent offer could damage them in the polls, has persuaded ministers to U-turn and increase their pay offer.
But there is no guarantee upping the pay rise to three per cent would ward off industrial action.
“If the pay review body is recommending a three per cent pay rise, it is a small step forward on the insulting one per cent the government offered in March,” Colenzo Jarrett-Thorpe, from Unite, told The Times.
“But this recommendation in no way recognises the 19 per cent drop in real earnings that many NHS workers have endured in the last decade, nor the immense sacrifices that health staff have and are continuing to make as Covid infection rates rapidly rise again.”
According to The Guardian, the RCN is also likely to reject three per cent as insufficient, especially as its Scottish branch has already rejected the Scottish government’s offer of a four per cent pay rise.
Junior doctors – whose pay is set separately and will only rise by two per cent this year – may also consider repeating their strike action from 2015-16 if three per cent is agreed, as it would mean their well-paid senior consultant colleagues would be getting a bigger increase in salaries.