Jeremy Hunt led calls for big pay rise for NHS nurses last summer

Chancellor, as chair of select committee, signed off report saying it was ‘unacceptable’ that nurses were struggling to feed families

Jeremy Hunt, the chancellor of the exchequer, led calls just six months ago for a big pay rise for nurses to reflect the cost of living crisis, describing it as “unacceptable” that they were struggling to buy enough food for their families, pay their housing costs and get to work.

The statements, made last July in a report by the health and social care select committee, which Hunt chaired at the time, and signed off on, places the chancellor under more pressure to offer a better deal to nurses and other NHS workers to prevent further crippling strikes and stem the exodus of key staff to the private sector.

In the report entitled ‘Workforce: Recruitment, Training and Retention in Health and Social Care’, the committee said after a detailed investigation that: “It is unacceptable that some NHS nurses are struggling to feed their families, pay their rent and travel to work.”

It clearly suggested they be given a pay rise to match inflationary pressures. Inflation at the time was running at over 10%. The report went on: “To reflect the crucial work that they do to keep the NHS running, and to improve recruitment and retention, the government must give all NHS staff employed under Agenda for Change [the government blueprint for the overhaul of the NHS pay system] a pay award that takes adequate account of the cost of living crisis.

“The NHS must review the job descriptions used for nursing and midwifery roles under Agenda for Change to ensure that nurses and midwives are being paid fairly for the safety critical roles that they deliver.”

The Treasury, led by Hunt, is now, however, seen by unions and even by some in government as the main block on progress in pay talks. It is insisting that ministers must not go beyond the recommendations of the NHS pay review body, which suggested 4% rises on average for nurses, rising to around 9% for some of the lowest earners, such as hospital porters.

The select committee report also urged an immediate replacement for the nursing bursary scheme for trainee nurses which was abolished when Hunt was health secretary in 2017, saying that the government’s target of recruiting 50,000 NHS nurses was “not having any meaningful impact on the true scale of the nursing shortages”.

One senior Tory MP said this weekend that Hunt’s “accurate reflections” on the errors of his time as health secretary, and the state of the service, had “come back to haunt him”. The MP added: “As chair of the health and social care select committee, he was able to take an objective view of the health service and its needs. It is very difficult to argue now that that was the wrong position to take, particularly given the overwhelming evidence that the NHS is now in crisis.”

Hunt was also a strong advocate while out of government of more funding for, and reform of, social care, and even suggested on Twitter on 19 July 2021 the idea of a 1% levy on all income to raise over £6bn a year for the sector.

In his budget in November, Hunt did increase funding for social care by £4.7bn but further postponed on cost grounds the implementations of the economist Andrew Dilnot, which include raising the amount of assets a person can have before getting state funding from £23,250 to £100,000 as well as capping lifetime care costs at £86,000.

A spokesman for the chancellor said last that Hunt sympathised deeply with NHS staff over their pay but as chancellor he had to bring down inflation. “The chancellor completely understands the anger of both public and private sector workers whose pay packets, through no fault of their own, are being eroded by 10% inflation.

“However, inflation-busting public sector pay rises risk permanently embedding high prices into our economy, prolonging the pain for everyone. The single best way to help everyone with the cost of living is to stick to the plan to half inflation this year.”

Last weekend, the unions’ lead negotiator, Sara Gorton, head of health at Unison, wrote to No 10, the Treasury and health secretary Steve Barclay asking for a meeting with the chancellor and prime minister on pay, but after a week she has yet to receive an answer.

On Monday and Tuesday there will be more ambulance strikes affecting much of the country, while physiotherapists in the NHS are poised to begin strike action on Thursday.


Toby Helm Political editor

The GuardianTramp

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