Labour pledges pay rise for NHS staff

Authors: Gareth Iacobucci 

Publication date:  04 May 2017

The Labour Party has pledged to give NHS staff a pay rise if it wins the UK general election, as it seeks to put health at the forefront of its campaign.

The party will also legislate for minimum staffing levels in NHS trusts to prevent finances taking precedent over patient safety, and it plans to reinstate student bursaries for nurses and midwives if it wins the election on 8 June.

Unveiling the proposals in a speech at the Unison Health Conference in Liverpool on Wednesday 26 April, Labour’s shadow health secretary, Jonathan Ashworth, said that NHS staff had been “ignored, insulted, undervalued, overworked, and underpaid” by the Conservative government.

A Labour government would scrap the current government’s 1% cap on staff pay that was artificially holding NHS wages below inflation and causing a recruitment crisis, Ashworth said. It would also seek to boost the number of nurses, midwives, and GPs and reinstate student bursaries for health related degrees that were removed by the current government, he added.

Ashworth said that safe staffing would be a “priority” for a Labour government, which would work with the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) to explore how to make safe staffing legally enforceable in NHS trusts.

The party has not yet provided costings for its pledges, but it said that its approach to boosting staff pay would be to listen to independent pay review bodies.

Ashworth said, “NHS staff have been taken for granted for too long by the Conservatives. Cuts to pay and training mean hardworking staff are being forced from NHS professions and young people are being put off before they have even started. Now Brexit threatens the ability of health employers to recruit from overseas.

“What is bad for NHS staff is bad for patients too. Short staffing means reduced services and a threat to patient safety. Labour’s new guarantees for NHS staff will help keep services running at the standard which England’s patients expect.”

He added, “After seven years of Tory mismanagement our health services are dangerously understaffed. We are thousands short on the numbers of nurses, midwives, GPs, and paramedics that we need.

“And let me be clear, we won’t make promises on behalf of the NHS without giving the NHS the resources and the tools to deliver those promises. The NHS under Labour will always get the funding it needs.”

Responding to the speech, England’s health secretary, Jeremy Hunt, questioned where Labour would find the funds to fulfil its pledges. Posting on Twitter, Hunt wrote, “Nothing more insincere than Labour promising hardworking NHS staff a pay rise with money they’ve already promised to students and schools.”

Hunt added that only the Conservatives could provide the “strong leadership” required to steer the country through Brexit and secure future funding for the NHS and social care. “With 27 countries lined up against us when negotiations start, Labour simply can’t match Theresa May’s strong leadership,” he said.

Candace Imison, director of policy at the healthcare think tank the Nuffield Trust, said that Labour was right to focus on tackling staffing challenges but said that the pledges would carry “significant price tags.”

She said, “The seven years of pay restraint endured by NHS staff have led to nurses seeing a 14% real terms reduction in their wages since 2010, and we know that applications for nursing courses from mature students, who have valuable life skills to offer the health service, have fallen since bursaries for nursing courses were abolished.

“However, both these pledges potentially come with significant price tags for which Labour will have to commit extra funding, or else the NHS simply won’t be able to afford the staff it already has.”

Gareth Iacobucci The BMJ

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