Health minister Nadine Dorries has defended the government’s proposed 1% pay rise for all NHS staff, saying it was “a statement of what we think we can afford”.
“The 1% offer is the most we think we can afford which we have put forward to the pay review body,” Dorries told Sky News.
Health service unions have denounced the proposed award as a “kick in the teeth” for staff who had given “absolutely everything” over the past year to keep the public safe.
But Dorries told BBC Radio 4′s Today programme: “No other public sector is getting any pay increase whatsoever and that’s because we’ve had to prioritise, and the priority has been saving jobs, it’s been furlough, protecting livelihoods, protecting people.”
She called the proposed 1% pay rise for NHS staff in England “a statement of what we think we can afford because we want to acknowledge nurses and doctors and healthcare workers”.
Dorries, who contracted coronavirus last year, added: “All other public-sector employees are facing a pay freeze, are having no increase whatsoever, we didn’t think that was the right thing to do for the healthcare sector given what they’ve been through over the last year.
“That is why we decided they have to have something and we’ve recommended the 1%, which is what we can afford.”
The move follows Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s announcement in last year’s spending review of a pay freeze for most public sector workers outside the NHS.
In its submission, the pay review bodies for NHS staff and for doctors and dentists, the Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC) said the NHS budget was based on a headline pay rise of 1%.
It suggested any award above that would require cuts to services with a “re-prioritisation” of funding within the service.
It said they needed to strike “the right balance between pay and staff numbers through systems of reward that are affordable and fit for purpose”.
The Royal College of Nursing is to set up a £35m industrial action fund in response to the recommendation, its leaders announced on Friday.
Veteran Tory MP Sir Roger Gale said NHS staff need to be paid more, either through a one-off tax-free payment or a pay rise, and branded the government’s handling of the issue as “inept”, appearing to blame chancellor Rishi Sunak for the position.Gale told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “I think more is needed.
“I think the way this has been presented and handled has been inept. I”m not going to try and put a figure on this and it’s expected that the government will start low and the unions will start high and normally there’s an agreement reached somewhere in the middle.
“But we are facing exceptional circumstances and yes, I know that over a period of three years nurses have had a considerable pay increase.
“But I think that is not what the public wants in terms of recognition of a wholly exceptional situation.”
Rachel Harrison, national officer of the GMB union, said Dorries’ defence was “contemptuous”.
“NHS workers are furious at the government’s recommendation of 1% pay increase, published in their evidence to the PRB late yesterday afternoon – six weeks late,” she told the PA news agency.
“Ministers have followed this with an even more contemptuous defence of the paltry increase – essentially saying: ‘It’s better than nothing.’
“It’s dismissive and insulting to NHS workers who have had an incredibly tough year keeping us all safe.
“A 1% rise for our key workers is less than nothing in real terms – predicted inflation this year is forecast to be 1.5% (CPI) or 2.5% (RPI), meaning that a 1% pay rise would in fact amount to real terms pay cut.
The proposal was angrily condemned by RCN general secretary, Dame Donna Kinnair who said it would amount to an increase of just £3.50 a week in take home pay for an experienced nurse.
“This is pitiful and bitterly disappointing. The government is dangerously out of touch with nursing staff, NHS workers and the public,” she said.
“Nobody would think that is fair in the middle of a pandemic and it will do nothing to prevent the exodus from nursing.”
Dr Chaand Nagpaul, who chairs the British Medical Association council, said it came as a “kick in the teeth” after a decade in which doctors had experienced real terms pay cuts of up to 30%.
“This is a total dereliction of the government’s moral duty and obligation to a workforce that is keeping the NHS on its feet and patients alive,” he said.
Unison head of health Sara Gorton said: “A 1% pay rise is the worst kind of insult the government could give health workers who’ve given their absolute everything over the past year.
“The public will be horrified. Staff will think it’s some kind of joke.”
A government spokesman said ministers would “carefully” consider the recommendations of the pay review bodies when they report in late spring.
“Over one million NHS staff continue to benefit from multi-year pay deals agreed with trade unions, which have delivered a pay rise of over 12% for newly-qualified nurses and will increase junior doctors’ pay scales by 8.2%,” the spokesman said.
“Pay rises in the rest of the public sector will be paused this year due to the challenging economic environment, but we will continue to provide pay rises for NHS workers, on top of a £513 million investment in professional development and increased recruitment.”
Labour said evidence to the NHS Pay Review Body from the Health Department was a “callous and an enormous slap in the face” for workers.
A government spokesman said: “Over one million NHS staff continue to benefit from multi-year pay deals agreed with trade unions, which have delivered a pay rise of over 12% for newly-qualified nurses and will increase junior doctors’ pay scales by 8.2%.
“Pay rises in the rest of the public sector will be paused this year due to the challenging economic environment, but we will continue to provide pay rises for NHS workers, on top of a £513m investment in professional development and increased recruitment.
“That’s with record numbers of doctors and 10,600 more nurses working in our NHS, and with nursing university applications up by over a third.
“The independent pay review bodies will report in late spring and we will consider their recommendations carefully when we receive them.”