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Employment

NHS recruitment crisis worsens as private sector pay growth reaches record-breaking highs

Experts warn the widest ever gap in public-private sector pay growth will only worsen the recruitment crisis plaguing the NHS

An average of 500 nurses and midwives are quitting every week. Image: Hush Naidoo Jade Photography / Unsplash

The gap between how much people are paid in businesses and in public sector work such as healthcare and education is at its highest ever, new figures have revealed, amid warnings that healthcare workers are leaving the NHS to work at Tesco because the pay is better.

With inflation topping 10 per cent, average pay in the private sector grew by a record-breaking 6.6 per cent in the three months to September, new Office for National Statistics data shows.

In the public sector, workers have seen their pay packets increase by just 2.2 per cent on average, a trend experts have warned will only worsen the recruitment crisis plaguing hospitals, schools and emergency services.

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Healthcare unions are urging the government to stump up the cash to raise the pay of NHS workers in the upcoming Autumn Budget, as the health service tackles rising vacancies

Christina McAnea, who represents 1.3 million Unison members in the public sector, said Tesco boss John Allen apologised over supermarkets hiring ex-healthcare workers who have left the NHS to earn more. 

“That just can’t be good for society, that we’ve got people leaving our essential services to go and work in retail because they can get more money,” she said in a House of Commons podcast released last week.

“Tesco have paid their staff two pay increases this year to reflect the fact that there’s a huge cost of living crisis. In fact, most of the big retailers have given their staff two pay increases this year, and that’s how they’re holding on to them.”

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The NHS is facing an “onslaught” of strike action over pay and understaffing, said NHS bosses, after the Royal College of Nursing called the first national nurses strike in its 106 year history. That was followed days later by the announcement of an ambulance workers strike in Scotland and another vote in England.  

The “huge wedge” between private and public sector pay “is unsustainable in the long run as it creates huge difficulties for recruiting and retaining public sector (employees)”, said Louise Murphy, an economist at the Resolution Foundation think tank.

The UK is facing a labour shortage of around 1.2 million people, but while the number of vacancies in the private sector has been falling for months, job adverts in the public sector are continuing to rise, with 330,000 vacancies across education, health, government and councils, and the defence industries.

Chancellor Jeremy Hunt might raise pay for public sector workers by 2 per cent, in the upcoming Autumn Budget, the Times has reported.

“With public services already stretched and job vacancies already at record highs, it will be hard for the chancellor to deliver a further period of sustained public sector pay restraint,” Murphy continued.

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