NHS pay: Unions agree deal for 1.3 million staff

More than one million NHS staff, including nurses, porters and paramedics, are being offered increases of at least 6.5% over three years – with some getting as much as 29%.

The deal has been formally agreed by union leaders and ministers on Wednesday and will cost over £4.2bn.

Staff will now be asked to vote on the deal with rises backdated to April if they agree by the summer.

The deal is tiered with the lowest paid in each job receiving the biggest rise.

The agreement covers all staff on the Agenda for Change contract – about 1.3m across the UK – which is the entire workforce with the exception of doctors, dentists and senior leaders.

‘It won’t solve every problem’

The agreement is complex. It means that:

  • half will get a 6.5% pay rise over three years
  • the other half will receive rises of between 9% and 29% because they are not at the top of their pay bands
  • the lowest full-time salary – paid to the likes of cleaners, porters and catering staff – will rise by 15% to more than £18,000
  • these groups will get an immediate £2,000 rise this year
  • a nurse with one year’s experience would see their basic pay rise by 21% over three years, giving them a salary of up to £27,400
  • the deal includes a commitment on both sides to reduce the high rate of sickness absence in the NHS

Sara Gorton, lead negotiator for the 14 health unions, said: “It won’t solve every problem in the NHS but it will go a long way towards making dedicated health staff feel more valued, lift flagging morale and help turn the tide on staffing problems.”

Danny Mortimer, chief executive of NHS Employers, said “compromises” have had to be made but he predicts the deal will make the NHS a “desirable” employer once again.

Inflation is forecast to be 2.4% in 2018, then 1.8% and 1.9% in the following two years. So in real terms, the minimum increase over three years is expected to be small.

It will be up to the devolved governments to decide whether to implement the deal outside England.

Scotland has already given its lowest paid staff bigger rises, so there could be some divergence in how the terms are introduced elsewhere.

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Treasury puts its money where its mouth is

By Laura Kuenssberg, political editor

The government indicated some time ago that the pay cap, which had been one of the main restrictions that held back public spending, was over.

But this deal could pave the way for expensive, even if overdue, pay deals for other parts of the public sector.

Crucially, sources say the deal will be fully funded by the Treasury, rather than coming out of existing NHS budgets.

The precise detail of what ministers say will therefore be vital. But the move is likely to add to the growing sense, including in the Conservative Party, that somehow, more cash for the health service needs to be found.

The government first announced it would lift the public sector 1% pay cap in September for police and prison officers, and then followed that with a promise in the Budget that NHS pay would be looked at, lifting the 1% cap a year early.

The NHS has been under pressure to retain staff, after it was revealed that one in 10 nurses was leaving the public sector in England every year.

The Royal College of Nursing claims average pay for nurses has fallen by more than 14% in real terms since 2010.

Statistics obtained by the BBC from NHS Digital showed 33,000 nurses walked away in 2017, piling pressure on understaffed hospitals and community services.

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt said the cost of the rise would be covered by the Treasury rather than coming out of the NHS budget.

“The agreement reflects public appreciation for just how much they have done and continue to do,” he added.

But not everyone has welcomed the deal.

While 12 health unions are recommending it to members, the GMB is not.

GMB national officer Kevin Brandstatter said the deal promised “jam tomorrow” and did not do enough to make up for the squeeze on pay since 2010.

“Long-serving, dedicated health service workers have had thousands of pounds swiped from their pay packets since 2010 by the government’s cruel and unnecessary pay cap.”

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