Minister urged to avoid 'blaming' world events for nurse pay restraint – Nursing Times

‘Nurses have made their voice heard loud and clear’
04 November, 2022 By
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The government’s financial secretary has come under fire for claiming the war in Ukraine was partly responsible for nurses needing to use food banks.
The Royal College of Nursing has hit out over the comments made by Victoria Atkins in parliament earlier this week and reminded ministers of the 20% real terms pay cut nurses have experienced in the last decade, as revealed in recent analysis.
“The minister knows deep down that it’s not the Ukraine war that’s responsible for nursing staff turning to food banks”
Pat Cullen
During a debate on public sector pay, which took place at Westminster Hall on Wednesday, MPs discussed the potential for strike action over this year’s pay awards for NHS staff.
In England and Wales, most nurses on Agenda for Change contracts were this summer handed a £1,400 pay rise, in line with the recommendations of the NHS Pay Review Body.
Meanwhile in Scotland, the government has recently put forward a new offer that would see NHS staff given a £2,205 uplift – equal to an 8.45% increase for most nurses. It had previously put forward a 5% increase.
The former health minister in Northern Ireland had signalled his intentions to accept the pay review body’s recommendations, but nurses there continue to wait for a formal announcement because of budget uncertainties.
Unions across the UK have been balloting their members following these below-inflation pay awards for the 2022-23 cycle.
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In the debate, Chris Bryant, Labour MP for Rhondda, highlighted how there had been wage suppression “seen for 12 years for nearly ever key worker” in the UK.
He said: “If wages are suppressed in the NHS, fewer and fewer people will choose to work in it, more and more people will retire, and more and more people will leave it entirely, which will exacerbate the problem.”
Mr Bryant put a question to Conservative MP and financial secretary Victoria Atkins: “Does the minister agree that one of the most shameful things we have seen over the last few years is nurses going to food banks run by their own hospitals because their pay is not enough for them to survive?”
In response, Ms Atkins alluded to the fact that rising cost of food, and subsequent use of food banks, is a result of events like the war in Ukraine.
She said: “In his speech, the honourable gentleman spoke about the rising cost of food.
“The pressures of international events, such as the war in Ukraine and its impact on grain supplies, which we know about from the coverage on our televisions, and on pesticides and agricultural tools, including those that farmers in my constituency need to help to feed our country, all play a part in that.”
“I very much hope that we all understand just how vital these workers are”
Victoria Atkins
Ms Atkins added that the help the government has provided to public sector workers, including wage increases, “is vital” and that the situation should be kept under constant review.
She also said she was “disappointed” that some public sector unions are considering strike action over pay.
“We want unions to engage not just with the government, but with the pay review bodies and the devolved administrations, in the processes that will run this year,” Ms Atkins said.
“We all know about… the impact that strikes have on hard-working families, but I very much hope that we all understand just how vital these workers are.”
The RCN general secretary and chief executive, Pat Cullen, has criticised Ms Akins’s comments.
She said: “The minister knows deep down that it’s not the Ukraine war that’s responsible for nursing staff turning to food banks. It’s the 20% real terms pay cut over the last decade that began this trend years ago.”
Recent analysis, commissioned by the RCN suggested nurses were now working one in every five days for free because of a real terms decline in pay of at least 20% since 2010.
Ms Cullen also highlighted record nurse vacancies and the concerning level of those leaving the profession in recent years.
“Ministers will soon hear the strength of feeling from our members when we announce the outcome of our strike ballot,” she said.
“They would do well to pay attention and not pass the blame to world events for the crisis in the nursing workforce.”
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Ms Aktins is not the first Conservative MP who has been criticised on their comments around nurses using food banks.
The former prime minister Liz Truss also came under fire for “dismissing” concerns about the number of nurses who rely on these services in September.
The RCN is just one of the unions in the UK which has recently balloted its members on industrial action over pay.
Over the last four weeks, more than 300,000 NHS nursing staff were asked if they were willing to take industrial action, including strike, as part of the RCN’s biggest strike ballot in its 106-year history.
It closed this week (2 November), with results expected to be published in the coming days.
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The nurses pay has been disgracefully low for a very long time, and a long time before covid and country conflicts. I first started working in the hospitals via a nursing agency and was appalled to learn that not only did agency staff get paid double nurse salaries, even when agency staff knew so little, they spent their shift doing menial tasks meaniñg the nurses worked twice as hard covering the work the agency staff couldn’t do. On top of that, a night shift, afmgenct staff got paid time and a half more than nurses. The NHS not only paid huge wages to their under-trained staff, the NHS also paid the agency a fee for using their staff. This was 30 years ago, and while the NHS staff, from auxiliary upwards are doing so much more that what’s required of them, they still do their job and want to remain in their career not just because they live what they do, but for those they help, and endless other reasons. The govt were all for encouraging the public to ‘clap for the nhs’ and go overboard in praising their good work, but words mean nothing when it comes to feeding their own families, letalone themselves. With fuel prices hiked they still have to get to work.. with their low salaries they still have to use the increasing home bills. Think about it and be honest, with nurses getting home after a shift with urine, faeces, blood and food thrown at them all over their uniform, these need washing and drying, do you really want them turning up for a shift in the same dirty uniform because they can’t afford the bills to wash and dry uniforms in time. Nurses of all levels go above and beyond and always have, and have always done this for either low or minimal salary. It’s long overdue by three decades that nurses deserve the decent salary raise they ask for. It’s certainly not unreasonable after all they do for this nation. Maybe those in power who are refusing the pay rise should spend a day or two (without a camera crew or their entourage) working alongside or observing what the nurses actually do. I mean the ones on the wards, not the ones who do the paperwork.
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