Pay restraint is giving UK nurses nightmares

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Financial pressures from years of the UK government pay restraint are keeping nurses up at night, as four in ten (41%) said they “lose sleep because of money worries”, The Independent reports a survey by the Royal College of Nursing has found. Results from the recently released RCN 2017 Employment Survey showed that the average nurse has seen a 14% real term pay cut since 2010, and earns £2,500 a year less than if wages had kept up with inflation, according to some estimates. And, the report says, while the government says it has “scrapped” its 1% cap on public sector pay rises, Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt has said pay rises will come for the sectors making “productivity’ gains.

The findings report says the show how years of austerity policies have left nurses disillusioned and overworked. Of 7,720 responses received from a representative sample of RCN members: three out of every four nurses (70%) said they were financially worse off than they were five years ago, and just 6% thought their position had improved; one quarter (23%) said they have taken on another job, such as working for a nursing agency or picking up extra shifts as National Health Service (NHS) “bank staff” to boost their income; in all, just 41% of nurses would recommend their career to others, the lowest level for a decade.

The report says the Nursing and Midwifery Council, which registers NHS nurses to practise in the UK, reported earlier this month that total numbers of registered nurses were at a four year low. And while significant numbers of EU nurses were leaving the UK, or opting not to come in the first place, since the Brexit vote, there were also large numbers of UK nurses leaving as well. This is also shown in the RCN survey with 37% are looking for a new job, up from 24% in 2007.

The RCN’s CEO and general secretary Janet Davies said in the report that NHS efficiencies had only been possible because of the limits on staff wages. “The shocking findings we’re highlighting today demonstrate just how severe the financial pressure on nursing staff has now become,” she said. “The Chancellor must therefore give a clear signal in the Budget… that the government will award an above-inflation pay rise to hard-pressed nursing staff in the NHS.”

The report says her appeal was echoed by the Royal College of Physicians, which represents 34,000 doctors, and has written to the Chancellor Philip Hammond asking for resources to end the “relentless draw” on staff goodwill. The letter says: “The system is reaching breaking point, staff are demoralised and the NHS workforce’s priceless goodwill is being relentlessly and unsustainably drawn upon.”

The report says the effects of the pay cap being scrapped will not be felt until mid-2018, at the earliest, as NHS pay review bodies are not due to give their recommendations for ministers consideration until Spring. A Department of Health spokesperson said: “Public sector workers, including NHS staff, do a fantastic job and the government is committed to ensuring they can continue to deliver world-class public services.

“We have already confirmed that the across-the-board 1% public sector pay policy will no longer apply to pay awards for 2018-19.”

“Public sector pay packages will continue to recognise workers’ vital contributions, while also being affordable and fair to taxpayers as a whole.”

The Independent report

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