A Government minister today insisted backtracking on the 1 per cent proposed pay rise for NHS workers would not be a U-turn.
Attempting to save face amid the bitter pay row, No10’s universities minister Michelle Donelan told Good Morning Britain negotiating a deal with the health service was always part of the plan.
The Government has made several embarrassing U-turns during the pandemic, most recently reversing its decision not to extend free school meals for vulnerable kids during the school holidays after a huge backlash.
Ms Donelan’s comments came amid growing fury over the proposed 1 per cent NHS salary bump, which unions described as a ‘slap in the face’ and threatened to strike over.
Whitehall sources today claimed that officials were now contemplating trebling their offer to 3 per cent.
Unions had been demanding a 12 per cent pay hike, but NHS England boss Sir Simon Stevens said a 2.1 per cent bump – like staff were originally promised – would be a fair deal.
A Whitehall source told the Times that an increase of between 2 and 3 per cent was ‘realistic’. The insider added that it was a matter of ‘when, not if’ the current offer is increased.
Boris Johnson said an independent spending review body was looking into the deal. Ms Donelan said the review was a ‘process.
Chancellor Rishi Sunak and Health Secretary Matt Hancock have defended the 1 per cent offer – which unions claimed works out at just £3.50 extra per week for a senior nurse – was ‘based on affordability’.
Universities minister Michelle Donelan (left) told Good Morning Britain that negotiating a deal with the health service was always part of the plan. Boris Johnson (running this morning in London) may be forced to give nurses more money
NHS workers staged protests over the proposed 1 per cent rise outside Downing Street last weekend
Ms Donelan confirmed the Government had made a pay rise recommendation to the Independent Pay Commission, who will advise the Government later this year.
She told Good Morning Britain: ‘Our NHS are our national heroes, we owe them so much for what they have done through the pandemic.
‘It’s not a case of we’re only offering a one per cent pay rise, far from it. We’re continually investing in our NHS with additional money to support against Covid.
‘We will continue to invest money into our NHS and our NHS heroes and we wait on that Commission report.’
She added: ‘I don’t think it will be a U-turn as such because this is a process where it goes to an independent commission.’
It comes after the Mail revealed last night that nurses were always going to be in line for a bigger pay rise than 1 per cent, due to previously-agreed Government deal.
Thousands of NHS staff were due to get a 1.7 per cent increase to their wages this year, in the last piece of a three-year pay deal that has already boosted salaries by 12 per cent.
The extra 0.7 per cent is worth another £230 to someone on the average nurse’s salary of £33,000.
Covid’s shocking impact on the NHS: Routine care is halved and cancer surgery is at a 10-year low
Treatment for non-Covid conditions halved in January as the NHS was engulfed by coronavirus patients, figures revealed yesterday.
Cancer surgery plummeted to its lowest level in ten years – with operations to remove tumours down 23 per cent compared to the same time in 2020.
Meanwhile, heart operations and procedures fell by 39 per cent according to NHS performance data.
Just 139,378 patients were admitted for routine NHS treatment such as knee or hip operations – a 54 per cent decrease from 304,888 in 2020.
Hospitals were forced to cancel thousands of operations due to the second wave of Covid-19 that saw 100,000 patients admitted with the virus in January alone.
Waiting lists for hospital treatment have now soared to 4.59million patients, the highest since records began. Of these, an astonishing 304,044 have been waiting more than a year. Just 1,643 had been waiting more than 52 weeks at the start of 2020.
The NHS’s progress at clearing the backlog from the first wave went into reverse during the surge over winter – which pushed hospitals to a breaking point.
Macmillan Cancer Support raised alarm over another significant drop in referrals for treatment and cancer diagnosis in January on top of the enormous backlog.
There is frustration among some in Whitehall that Health Secretary Matt Hancock has failed to make it clear nurses will not get a real-terms pay cut, like Labour and unions have claimed.
‘No one can understand why the Department of Health presented this as a one per cent pay rise when it’s actually 1.7,’ a source said.
‘We are getting killed for giving nurses a real-terms pay cut, when it isn’t even true.’
A Department of Health source confirmed that NHS staff in the ‘Agenda for Change’ pay group, which includes most nurses, will get a 0.7 per cent rise this year.
That is in addition to whatever emerges from the current pay round, which is under discussion by the NHS Pay Review Body (NHSPRB).
The source denied the department had underplayed the fact, however, saying it was set out in its submission to the NHSPRB, and had been mentioned by Mr Hancock at a No 10 press conference.
The document published last week states: ‘We expect the total investment in AfC [Agenda for Change] in 2021/22 to be 1.7 per cent.’
It explains that the extra 0.7 per cent is an ‘overhang’ from the three-year deal agreed in 2018.
The pay structure is being streamlined for staff on bands five to seven – ranging from podiatrists to paramedics and therapists – and will put some staff at the top of the new pay points. This will create ‘significant pay increases’ of up to 12 per cent for some workers.
A separate group of the best-paid NHS staff in bands eight and nine, such as managers and chief nurses, are also due a final, as yet undecided, uplift from the three-year deal and ‘this represents an additional commitment on top of the 0.7 per cent overhang’.
Nurses have hit out at the Government for the initial 1 per cent offer, saying it was ‘callous’, given that health workers have battled Covid for more than a year.
Linzie, a surgical nurse from Glasgow, said today: ‘The most recent announcement of the interim pay rise has felt like another blow for me personally, it then affects my sleep, which in turn affects my mental health through overthinking, worrying and feeling let down.
‘The pandemic has meant poor sleep is affecting me far more than it has done previously, sleepless nights are at an all-time high, digital therapy has supported me through some of the darkest days, but I am not out of the woods yet .
‘I know that I’m not alone in this struggle and that sadly countless healthcare workers suffer from poor sleep like me too, I can’t recommend NHS approved tools such as Sleepio to them enough.’
Yesterday Labour made nurses’ pay the focus of its local elections campaign.
Opposition leader Sir Keir Starmer said nurses should get at least the 2.1 per cent pay rise that was originally budgeted for by the NHS for this year. And he refused to rule out joining NHS staff on picket lines if they strike over pay.
At the party’s local election launch, Sir Keir dodged questions about whether he would back such action. He said: ‘Nobody in the NHS wants to go on strike. As I say, my wife works in the NHS. They don’t want to go on strike.
‘The only thing that is causing this dispute is the Prime Minister and it’s what he does that is going to determine this.
‘I support them in their entitlement to a fair wage rise after what they’ve been through.’
Labour will attempt to put more pressure on Boris Johnson over the proposed pay offer today by launching a poster attacking his ‘moral failure’ on the issue.
In an echo of the current Covid ad campaign, the billboard depicts a nurse and reads: ‘Boris Johnson, look her in the eyes and tell her why you’re cutting her pay.’
The party also wants the PM to correct the record after he wrongly said Labour had voted against an NHS pay rise.