Pay rise for thousands of NHS staff already overdue

Demoralised staff have been let down with no clue how they will meet rising bills

The government has let down hundreds of thousands of “demoralised” NHS staff after yet again failing to honour the due date for their annual pay increase, says UNISON today (Friday).

The union has written to health secretary Victoria Atkins to say government delays are to blame for workers not receiving their 2024/25 wage rise, which was due on Easter Monday.

With the cost-of-living crisis far from over, the government’s silence on NHS pay means health staff remain in the dark about how to budget, adds the union.

And with ministers choosing the lengthy NHS pay review body process over direct talks with unions, staff are likely to be left out of pocket for many more months, UNISON says.

To add insult to injury, the week when health workers should have found out how much the government intends to pay them this year is also when many of their household bills rose significantly.

From this week, millions of people will be paying substantially more for their council tax, water, broadband, mobile phones and TV licences.

Nurses, cleaners, ambulance workers and other NHS staff now “face months of uncertainty” because the government was late beginning the pay review process and in submitting its own evidence, the union’s letter explains.

The letter to Victoria Atkins goes on to say that a “desperately needed annual pay rise” is vital to help staff “pay their bills and stop the steady stream of their colleagues leaving for better-paid jobs elsewhere”.

Frustration with the government’s handling of pay means staff at every level of the NHS – including operating department workers, porters, 999 call handlers, nurses and healthcare assistants – have already made up their minds to leave their current jobs, the letter adds.

And there’s a particular problem with the staff on the lowest NHS pay bands who now earn just a penny more an hour than the statutory minimum wage, says UNISON.

To ensure the wages they pay remain within the law, employers are now having to deny these workers access to salary-deduction schemes that previously helped staff pay for essentials like workplace parking, childcare and their travel to work.

The letter says each month that passes without a pay deal is “a wasted opportunity by government to give staff a reason to stay” in the NHS.

The more staff who leave, the greater “the mammoth task” of reducing treatment waiting lists and unfilled vacancies, according to the letter to the health secretary.

Supermarkets including Aldi, Tesco and Lidl are now paying at least the real living wage of £12 an hour, which is 55p higher than the lowest NHS pay rates.

UNISON’s letter says low-paid NHS staff are understandably quitting to take up these more lucrative, less stressful jobs, which could see them as much as £80 a month better off.

The letter adds: “It’s no wonder low-paid NHS staff are leaving to seize these opportunities of an immediate extra pay boost, money that can make the difference between putting food on the table or seeing their families go hungry.”

UNISON head of health Helga Pile said: “Health workers should know what wage rise they’re getting on the day it’s due.

“But instead of doing everything possible to hang on to demoralised NHS employees, government delays over pay are simply giving staff another reason to leave.

“Ministers say they want to get waiting lists down, but if the gaps in NHS staffing worsen, this will remain an impossible pipe dream.

“Making the workforce feel valued by awarding a decent pay rise on time could prove enough to persuade exhausted staff to stay. Employers too want a prompt wage settlement, so they can budget for it, vacancies don’t worsen, patients get the quality care they deserve and delays for treatment reduce.

“It’s clearer than ever the pay review body process is no longer able to achieve what it was set up to do. The time it takes to recommend the yearly wage rise is actually damaging the NHS. Direct pay talks would be far quicker and simpler. The government is in danger of missing an open goal.”