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Nurses poised for strikes as minister tells LBC 1% NHS pay rise is ‘what we can afford’

5 March 2021, 11:43 | Updated: 5 March 2021, 20:54

Ewan Quayle

By Ewan Quayle

The Government cannot afford to give NHS staff in England a pay rise of more than 1%, Nadine Dorries told LBC today as unions prepared strike action over the plans.

Unions representing NHS workers have warned of industrial action amid mounting anger over the Government's recommendation of a 1% pay rise for nurses and other health workers, who are battling to keep the nation fit and well during the pandemic.

The Royal College of Nursing also announced today that it is to set up a £35 million industrial action fund in response to the Government's recommendation.

Health Minister Ms Dorries said this morning that healthcare workers would be the only public sector workers to receive a pay rise while others would have their salaries frozen, and that a further increase would mean the furlough scheme would become unaffordable.

"Our priority has to be about saving people's jobs and people's livelihoods, she told LBC, "and that is where our prioritisation in terms of funding has to be."

It comes as it was revealed the cost of the much-criticised Test and Trace system will cost the UK public purse £37 billion.

Read more: 'Unsustainable pressure' on teachers could threaten Government's education recovery plans

Ms Dorries added: "We have to continue the furlough scheme, we have to continue providing grants to business so that they can continue to keep running, and we've made an offer to the Pay Review Board of 1% which is what we can afford in order to continue furlough."

Ms Dorries, a former nurse, said she "knows what it's like to work those 12-hour shifts" and said she and the Government value the hard work of NHS staff during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Ms Dorries said the priority for the Government is to "continue to keep our economy stable" as it comes out of the pandemic.

She said: "Only with a stable economy can we make pay awards in the future. The pay awards that we've just made over the last three year, 12% for nurses, we would want to do that in the future but we can't do it without a stable economy."

It follows outrage from Labour and trade unions over the policy, accusing the Government of inflicting a "kick in the teeth" to health workers.

They said evidence to the NHS Pay Review Body from the Health Department was a "callous and an enormous slap in the face" for workers.

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."

Unite national officer for health, Colenzo Jarrett-Thorpe, called for industrial action: "Following yesterday's kick-in-the-teeth announcement that the Government wants to peg NHS pay at 1% for 2021-22, Unite will be considering all its options, including the holding of an industrial action ballot, as our pay campaign mounts in the coming weeks.

"We will be fully consulting our members on the next steps, given that inflation could be 2% by the end of 2021, so what Prime Minister Boris Johnson is recommending is another pay cut in real terms.

"It shows an unyielding contempt by ministers for those who have done so much to care for tens of thousands of Covid-19 patients in the last year.

"The public is rightly outraged by a Government that can spend £37 billion on the flawed private sector Test and Trace programme, but can't find the cash for a decent pay rise for those on the NHS front line."

The proposal was also angrily condemned by Royal College of Nursing 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.

For Labour, Shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth said: "A pay cut for NHS staff is the ultimate kick in the teeth to our NHS heroes who have done so much to keep us safe over the past year."

And in a message to NHS workers, Keir Starmer said: "You deserve a pay rise.

"During the pandemic it’s been our amazing NHS who’ve kept our country going, kept us safe, and looked after our loved ones.

"They’ve been there on the frontline, putting their lives on the line. They’re the very best of Britain.

"My Mum was a nurse. My sister was a nurse. My wife works in the NHS. I know what it means to work for the NHS.

"And if I were Prime Minister I would give them a fair pay rise that they deserve.

"However, this week we learned that the Conservative Government is planning a real term pay cut for NHS staff. The mask has finally slipped.

"After all we’ve been through together, after clapping for our carers, this is nothing short of an insult. It sends a very strong message to the British public.

"Under my leadership, Labour will stand with the NHS and with our key workers. We will argue for a better deal, for fairer pay. The NHS protected us, now it’s time to protect them."