27/04/2017 04:14 BST | Updated 27/04/2017 05:34 BST

Labour Has The Right Idea Offering Dedicated NHS Workers A Much-Needed Pay Rise

Peter Byrne/PA Wire

We all rely on the NHS to care for us. To treat us, patch us up and cure us - even save our lives.

It's dedicated health staff such as nurses and care assistants who go above and beyond every day to provide the best care possible, and keep the health service running.

This is despite the ever-increasing pressures from staff shortages, an ageing population and an NHS starved of much-needed funding by this government, and its predecessor.

Theresa May insists she values health workers. But this claim rings rather hollow given the endless pay freezes and wage caps ministers have imposed - for seven long years.

No wonder staff feel taken for granted. Day after day they turn up for their shifts and give 100%, regularly working overtime and through their breaks. Yet in return, they've been offered an insulting 1% pay again this year.

This amounts to less than five pounds a week for most midwives, nurses, cleaners, paramedics, radiographers and other healthcare staff.

But with inflation on the rise, the gap between take-home pay and household expenditure is growing, and NHS staff are struggling to stretch their money far enough. Elsewhere in the economy other employees' wages have been rising.

The absence of a decent pay rise is also making it harder and harder for hospital trusts both to hold onto experienced employees and recruit the next generation. And without enough staff, patient care is suffering.

In a UNISON survey out this week, nearly two-thirds of nurses said they were so busy they either had no time at all to speak to patients and relatives, or felt extremely rushed when trying to do so.

With huge gaps in the number of nurses, paramedics and other key health professionals needed by the NHS, it's not just patients who are affected, but health workers too. With too few colleagues, they frequently end their shifts feeling completely exhausted. As a result, many say they'd like to leave their current job if they could. If they do, the consequences for the NHS are unthinkable.

The government wants people to believe it values NHS staff, but its pay policies tell a different story. Ministers claim a decent pay rise is unaffordable and the pay cap must remain, yet both top judges and MPs have already been awarded more than 1% this year.

And this from a government who won't even promise thecash needed to bring NHS pay up to the legal minimum of its own national living wage.

More than £4.3billion has been cut from NHS staff salaries between 2010 and 2016 as a result of the pay cap. This is the equivalent of an annual pay reduction of £2,288 for a hospital cleaner, £4,846 for a nurse and £8,364 for a clinical psychologist.

The Labour Party has the right idea. Reward staff for their dedication and hard work, and everyone benefits. Ministers must stop relying on the goodwill of NHS staff, rethink their short-sighted wages policy and pay staff properly. Otherwise they'll keep on leaving for less stressful, better rewarded jobs elsewhere. And then we all suffer.

Christina McAnea is UNISON's head of health