A nurses’ union has set up a £35m fund to prepare for possible strike action over a proposed 1% pay rise for NHS workers in England.
The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) called this “pitiful”, arguing that its members should get 12.5% instead.
It would have to hold a ballot before strikes can go ahead.
Labour said NHS “heroes” deserved more money, but minsters said this could result in cuts to NHS services at a time when public finances were tight.
At least 1.3 million other public sector staff – including teachers and police officers – are about to have their pay frozen for a year.
The Department of Health has suggested the 1% pay rise for NHS workers, which is supported by the independent panel on salaries. This would cover nearly all hospital staff, but not GPs and dentists.
What do NHS workers in England earn?
- The lowest minimum full-time salary – for newly employed drivers, housekeeping assistants, nursery assistants and domestic support workers – is £18,005 per year
- The highest – usually for consultants with at least five years’ experience – is £104,927
- The RCN calculates that the average salary for a nurse is £33,384
- The starting salary for most newly qualified nurses is £24,907
- The pay range does not include GPs, dentists and very senior managers
- Staff in “high-cost areas”, such as London, get extra payments
The RCN’s governing council voted on Friday to set up a £35m “industrial action fund” to support members who would lose income during a strike.
General secretary Dame Donna Kinnair warned a 1% pay rise would mean an increase of just £3.50 a week in take-home pay for an experienced nurse.
“This is pitiful and bitterly disappointing,” she said. “The government is dangerously out of touch with nursing staff, NHS workers and the public.”
Dame Donna called for a 12.5% increase to compensate for previous “years we haven’t had a pay increase”.
But health minister, and former nurse, Nadine Dorries said she was “pleasantly surprised” any rise had been proposed at a tough time for public finances.
She told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that nurses “do their job because they love their job” and she hoped they understood “that we totally appreciate their efforts over the past year”.
Mrs Dorries added that “in the private sector many people are actually losing their jobs and have been on very much reduced incomes over the past year”.
Multi-year pay deals had delivered a pay rise of more than 12% for newly qualified nurses, and would increase junior doctors’ pay scales by 8.2%, a government spokesperson said.
NHS pay in England has been out of the news since 2018 when a three-year deal was agreed and welcomed by unions.
But the issue is firmly back on the agenda with a new deal needed for the upcoming financial year.
This is just the start of the process.
The government has made its submission to the NHS Pay Review Body. But the fact that ministers think a 1% pay rise is reasonable has angered health unions.
They see it as scant reward for the huge efforts of staff during the pandemic.
Government sources say that inflation is so low that 1% still represents a real-terms increase and that public finances are constrained.
This is shaping up to be a tense few months, with pay added to the many difficult issues facing the NHS.
However, Emily Huntingford, an intensive care nurse at London’s St Bartholomew’s Hospital, told BBC Breakfast she had been “completely shocked” when she heard about the 1% pay rise.
“The first thing that came into my mind was that this is insulting,” she added. “It shows a complete disregard for the work NHS workers have done this year.
“This whole year has taken a lot of personal sacrifice for all of us. We’ve put ourselves at risk.”
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said the planned rise would mean a real-terms salary reduction, adding: “They have been keeping this country going throughout this pandemic and it is absolutely wrong to freeze their pay at this time.”
Asked if Labour’s position was financially responsible, he replied: “What we need now is for a recovery [to happen] as swiftly as possible.
“You don’t build that recovery by cutting expenditure and by putting up taxes.”
The NHS in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland is run by the devolved administrations.