Nurses' union prepares for strike action over 1% pay offer for NHS staff

Royal College of Nursing sets up fund to cover members’ lost earnings should they decide to walk out

A nurses’ union is preparing for strike action as anger grows about the 1% pay rise proposed for NHS staff in England.

The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) said that at an emergency meeting called by its governing council, members voted to set up a £35m fund to support workers facing loss of earnings owing to industrial action.

It said it would only be used by members “should they wish to take action”, cautioning that the “next steps will be decided in conjunction” with them.

The group has called the planned pay increase “pitiful”, and doctors’ groups have accused the government of a dereliction of duty after Boris Johnson’s effusive praise for health and social care workers during the pandemic.

The junior health minister Nadine Dorries said on Friday that ideally nurses would get a bigger pay rise, and she suggested the government could “move” on the issue.

Dorries told BBC Breakfast: “I was actually surprised because I knew that we’d frozen public sector pay, that no one in the public sector was receiving a pay rise, so I was pleasantly surprised that we were making an offer.”

She said the offer was the most the government thought it could afford and put forward to the NHS pay review body. She told Sky News: “That will be discussed, then we will wait for feedback from unions and other health sector stakeholders and see where we move to on this, but the 1% is what the government can afford.”

Dorries, a former nurse, noted that nurses were on an average salary of £34,000 at a time when many people had lost their jobs, and she predicted that record numbers would apply to enter the profession this year. “Everybody in an ideal world would love to see nurses paid far more … but we are coming out of a pandemic where we have seen huge borrowing and costs to the government,” she said.

Dorries, whose ministerial brief covers patient safety, suicide prevention and mental health, also said there would be no cuts to NHS budgets.

Budget documents revealed there was a planned cut of £30bn in day-to-day spending at the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) from April this year, from £199.2bn to £169.1bn.

“That £30bn, I believe, was a reduction on the pandemic spending – there are actually real-time increases going into the NHS budget year on year. That figure, I’m afraid, is completely wrong – that’s not on our annual funding of the NHS, that was on our pandemic budget, which is completely separate,” Dorries said.

The pay review body will recommend in May how much of a salary uplift the vast majority of NHS staff should get in 2021-22. The proposed 1% pay rise would apply to all NHS staff apart from junior doctors, GPs and dentists.

The veteran Tory MP Sir Roger Gale said more was needed. “We are facing exceptional circumstances. Yes, I know over a period of three years nurses have had a considerable pay increase, but that [1%] is not what I think the public wants in terms of recognition of a wholly exceptional situation,” he said on Friday.

“I do think there has to be a recognition, whether there is a one-off payment – preferably tax-free and a big one – or a pay settlement which obviously would be ongoing.”

Gale said he had met the south-east branch of the RCN 10 days ago and had written a private letter to the chancellor.

The Labour leader, Keir Starmer, denounced the government’s recommendation of a 1% pay rise. He said: “This is insulting to NHS staff on the frontline. They have been on the frontline throughout this pandemic. It is not good enough just to clap them. This is a real insult. They need to be properly recognised and properly rewarded.

“The prime minister tries to take credit for the vaccine rollout whilst cutting the pay of those who are actually delivering it, and it is insulting.”

Starmer said a real-terms pay cut would be “completely the wrong thing in this situation”, and he called for NHS workers to be given a pay rise above inflation. He said: “They need a fair rise in pay, above inflation, to be properly recognised and rewarded for what they have put in in the last 12 months.”

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Ben Quinn and Aubrey Allegretti

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