Employment

NHS workers could strike over pay rise that leaves hundreds of thousands worse off in real terms

NHS staff have voted to reject a 4 per cent pay increase and are set to vote on industrial action in autumn.

A protestor holds a sign saying "Heroes shouldn't have to use food banks" calling for better pay for NHS workers

In 2017 the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) reported “growing numbers of nursing staff using food banks, taking on additional jobs and accruing personal debt. Image: Unsplash / Ehimetalor Akhere Unuabona

Hundreds of thousands of NHS workers will decide whether to go on strike after rejecting a pay increase that will see them worse off than last year in real terms.

The pay rise, announced in July, would mean an average 4 per cent increase for most staff but new inflation figures released today mean the average cost of living had increased by 10 per cent since the same time last year.

According to the Royal College of Midwives (RCM), over two thirds of the £1,400 pay increase will go on rising energy bills, with the rest going on tax, leaving members worse off than last year in real terms. 

Unite’s general secretary Sharon Graham called the pay award a “kick in the teeth” for NHS workers after carrying the country through the pandemic. 

Holly Turner, a registered nurse and founder of the grassroots organisation NHS Workers Say No, which spearheaded the #NHSPay15 campaign, calling for the NHS to pay workers a 15 per cent pay rise, says that some workers have “lost up to 29 percent of their pay in real terms across the past 13 years,” and that the pay award will “do nothing to mitigate the collapse of our health service.”

Under the pay award, NHS workers in most pay brackets will receive an annual pay increase of £1,400. This amounts to a below inflation increase of 4.1 percent on average, with 7.42 percent for workers in the lowest bands and as little as 1.3 percent for those in the highest band. UK inflation hit double digits today at 10.1 percent. 

In May, NHS trusts around the country set up food banks and offered food voucher schemes for workers struggling to cope with the cost of living crisis, while others are unable to afford to travel to work. Meanwhile, the NHS is facing its worst ever staffing crisis, with a shortage of 12,000 doctors and 50,000 nurses and midwives

Workers unionised under the RCM, the Royal College of Nurses (RCN) and Unison – which represents all NHS workers other than doctors – are set to be balloted for industrial action this autumn, with strike action likely. If all unions vote for action across England, Scotland and Wales it will be the first such combined action in the RCN’s history.

Other NHS workers unionised under Unite the Union, GMB, the Royal College of Midwives, the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy and the Society of Radiographers will also vote in indicative ballots between now and October.

If members vote yes, they will then vote on whether or not to take industrial action, threatening widespread disruptions over winter to an already crumbling system. 

Turner, from NHS Workers Say No, told The Big Issue: “[The NHS] now has over 110,000 vacancies and almost 7 million sat on waiting lists. 

“We are seeing food banks opening in hospitals for staff and in April our band 2 colleagues received an emergency uplift of their pay so the NHS did not fall foul of minimum wage legislation. 

“This is a disgrace.”

She added that while industrial action is not a decision NHS staff would take lightly, change is needed.

“Without forcing change then conditions will only continue to deteriorate and become increasingly dangerous,” she said.

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