THE BLOG

The Government Must Play Fair on Fair Pay for NHS Staff

04/07/2014 13:32 BST | Updated 02/09/2014 10:59 BST

Of the countries that remain in the World Cup, I'd be surprised if any has a manager who decided that the best way to get his players to perform was to leave them despondent.

Yet that was the approach taken towards NHS staff by Jeremy Hunt, the health secretary, when he blocked a proposed one per cent pay rise for all NHS staff.

It was a poor decision with ramifications for patient care that mean it might end up saving a little, but costing a lot.

Let me explain why.

All of the evidence shows that the more staff feel valued, the better they perform.

For the NHS, this means better quality services for patients.

It's hard to see how denying staff what was in any case a pretty measly pay rise can be seen as demonstrating that they are valued.

Indeed, at a time when they are working harder than ever to provide quality services against a backdrop of budget cuts and reorganisation, I fear this demoralising act has the potential to have a very damaging impact.

The consequences could be seen in the long-term too if NHS staff leave the health service for other sectors where they feel their contribution will be better recognised.

The frustrating thing is that there was no need for any of this to happen.

The independent Pay Review Body (PRB) took evidence from the government, employers and unions - including my own - and decided that a one per cent rise across the board was the fairest outcome for all parties as well as the taxpayer.

One per cent doesn't sound much - indeed, it isn't.

But after three years of pay restraint that meant some staff suffered a real-terms cut in income of up to 12 per cent it was at least something.

And since we are committed to the independent process, which seeks to find consensual outcomes rather promote confrontation, we accepted the PRB's recommendation.

Unfortunately, Mr Hunt did not.

In March, he withdrew the offer of a one per cent rise for all staff and said it would be available only to those at the top of their pay bands - the progressive scales that staff climb as they gain more skills in their job.

In doing this, he not only ripped up the principle of an independent pay review process, he also left staff dismayed and demoralised.

I worked in the NHS for 28 years before joining the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy, yet rarely in all those years did I encounter such anger at a single decision taken by a politician.

The fury is deep, widespread and may lead to industrial action this year. NHS staff have been meeting MPs this week to argue the case for fair pay.

Because what is at stake here is a principle, as much as a pay rise.

Physiotherapists and other NHS staff accepted pay restraint over the past few years and continued to deliver excellent services during very tough times.

They did this because they believe in the NHS and they believed that their loyalty would be acknowledged when the economy began to recover.

But now the government is refusing to hold up its end of the bargain.

One per cent was not a great offer; no-one was popping champagne corks when it was made.

But it represented an acknowledgment of the hard times NHS staff had gone through to keep the show on the road.

The government must now honour its commitment and reinstate the one per cent pay rise to show that it values the work done by its dedicated NHS staff.