Nurses working one out of five days for free, report finds – Nursing Times

‘This is a situation that cannot go on indefinitely’
28 October, 2022 By
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Nurses are working one out of every five days for free because of a decade of real terms pay cuts, new analysis has revealed.
The Royal College of Nursing, responsible for the commissioning of the analysis, warned this “exploitation of nursing staff cannot be tolerated any longer”.
The independent report by consulting firm London Economics found that nurses at the top of Band 5 and 6 on the Agenda for Change (AfC) framework have seen a real terms decline in pay of at least 20% since 2010.
It said this meant nurses were being paid the same amount for five days work now as they previously received for four days work 12 years ago.
The news comes as nurses and other NHS staff across the UK are balloted on industrial action over pay.
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The new analysis shows that given the currently very high rates of inflation, nurses at the top of Band 5 in England, Wales and Northern Ireland would need a pay rise of 45% over the next two years to achieve the same real earnings as they had in 2010-11, while nurses in Scotland would need a pay rise of 39% above the June 2022 pay offer.
In addition, it found a clear relationship between declining nurse salaries and the rate at which nurses are leaving the NHS workforce.
The total number of nurses leaving the NHS every year rose from 27,000 in 2010-11 to 38,000 in 2021-22, according to the report.
Dr Gavan Conlon from London Economics presented the data at the launch of the report on Thursday.
He said that without a significant pay rise for nurses, the number of nursing vacancies would continue to grow, with serious consequences for the health service, and the UK economy more broadly.
“If we don’t achieve a significant pay rise for nurses, we have a whole range of issues that will become more extreme,” he said.
He added that staff turnover and high vacancy rates were leaving people on waiting lists who needed to access NHS services before they could return to work.
“Expecting nursing staff to work one day a week for free is totally unacceptable”
Pat Cullen
National figures show that one in five 65-year-olds who left their job since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic are currently on NHS waiting lists. This goes up to one in three who left work because of ill health.
“We need a healthy nation to get the economy back on track,” Dr Conlon said.  “The country is going to face a catastrophic recession if we can’t get people back to work.”
He added: “There are a range of other factors affecting nurses leaving the profession, but the one thing the government has control over is pay.
“If you want to see nurses staying their post you need to give a significantly above inflation pay rise.”
The government is currently working to a recruitment target of 50,000 new nurses by 2024 compared to 2019 figures.
But Dr Conlon said that this would be too little to cover the vacancies if the leaver rate remains at 32,000 a year.
“If you have 32,000 leavers a year this obliterates anything the government can do in hitting the recruitment target of 50,000 new nurses,” he said.
The analysis also shows that nurses’ pay has gone down nearly twice as much in real terms as private sector pay, with private sector earnings dropping by 3.2% between 2011 and 2021 compared to a drop of 6% in nurses’ median earnings.
Moreover, the private sector has responded to the current cost of living crisis by offering significant pay hikes, creating the largest gap between public and private sector pay growth on record.
This means there is even more of an incentive for nurses to leave the NHS workforce for more lucrative work in other fields.
The analysis also shows that a pay increase of 5% above inflation to keep nurses in their jobs would cost less than trying to fill nursing vacancies through international recruitment or agency coverage.
As previously reported, filling a vacancy with international recruitment would cost 2.4 times as much as a 5% above inflation pay rise, while relying on bank and agency nursing to fill the vacancy would cost nearly twice as much.
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RCN general secretary and chief executive, Pat Cullen, said: “This exploitation of nursing staff cannot be tolerated any longer.
“In the pandemic, the politicians urged the public to clap for carers, but now they are wilfully ignoring nursing’s astonishing efforts and expertise.
“Ministers have stubbornly resisted the requirement to address the workforce crisis, including paying nursing fairly, instead rejecting any opportunity to act.
“They have taken advantage of nursing’s goodwill and steadfast determination to act in the interests of their patients.”
She added: “Our members have had enough. Expecting nursing staff to work one day a week for free is totally unacceptable.
“Patients deserve better from their politicians. Despite nursing staff working increasingly long hours and doing all they can, safe and effective care is being undermined by the failure of governments to act.”
The Department of Health and Social Care has been contacted for comment.
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