Education secretary Gavin Williamson has hinted ministers could U-turn on NHS pay, amid a fierce backlash to government’s “insulting” offer of a 1% hike.
Now, Williamson has stressed the move, which is being examined by an independent pay review board, is “part of a process”, suggesting the government could rethink the rise.
Shown a video of prime minister Boris Johnson and Sunak clapping for carers during the pandemic, as hospitals and care homes were struggling to cope with the pandemic, BBC One presenter Andrew Marr put it to Williamson that the minuscule hike was “frankly an insult” to staff.
“What we are having to deal with is incredibly challenging economic circumstances,” the education secretary said.
“We have put forward a proposal. We have put forward what we believe that we can afford and it’s part of a process and that will sort of be looked at.
“But really, our focus is on making sure we recover from this pandemic.”
Pressed on whether ministers could U-turn, he added: “We’ve stated that this is very much part of the process – what the government has put forward has been passed to an independent review.”
Asked if he was among those who clapped, Williamson said: “Like everyone, I went out there to clap.”
Unions, NHS staff and members of the public have reacted with anger to the pay offer.
They had been expecting a 2.1% rise, after Tory MPs backed a set increase last year.
The British Medical Association (BMA), the Royal College of Midwives, the Royal College of Nursing and Unison have said in a letter to ministers that the pay deal “fails the test of honesty and fails to provide staff who have been on the very frontline of the pandemic the fair pay deal they need”.
The letter adds: “Our members are the doctors, nurses, midwives, porters, healthcare assistants and more, already exhausted and distressed, who are also expected to go on caring for the millions of patients on waiting lists, coping with a huge backlog of treatment as well as caring for those with Covid-19.”
Speaking earlier to Sky News’ Sophy Ridge, Williamson was also asked whether a U-turn was likely on the NHS pay recommendation.
He said there had “quite rightly” been “record increases” going to doctors and nurses, but that the country faced “a much more difficult economic period” after the economy had shrunk by 10% during the pandemic.
Pressed on possible NHS strikes over the pay move, he added: “No-one wants to see industrial action and I’m certain the Royal College of Nursing wouldn’t want to see industrial action.”
Shadow foreign secretary Lisa Nandy said it was “reprehensible” for ministers not to recommend putting NHS pay up by more than 1%.
The senior Labour politician told Sky News” “The government, to be clear, is not planning a pay rise.
“That is a real-terms pay cut because it doesn’t keep up with inflation and for nurses to be offered a pay cut is just reprehensible in our view.
“In the NHS long-term plan, the government budgeted for a 2.1% pay rise – that is what nurses were promised and last year they legislated for that in order to give nurses a cast-iron guarantee that after years of seeing their real-terms pay fall, that the Government would finally reverse that decision and start to see their pay increase.
“We think they ought to go into these negotiations at a bare minimum of honouring that promise of a 2.1% (increase) and then consider what more they can offer to our NHS staff who have done so much to put their families and themselves at risk every day going into work – some of them have died.”