NHS staff deserve a pay rise, 5 November 2014

Rachael Maskell, Health sector national officerBy Rachael Maskell, Unite head of health

Staff are proud of what they do and the skills they have acquired to achieve it.

Staff, cannot be described as anything less than dedicated with the, on average, 8 hours unpaid overtime they donate to the service each week.

My experience is that the NHS staff are so professional, caring, innovative, hard-working, selfless, loving, supportive people you can come across.

What a contrast from Jeremy Hunt’s pronouncement that they are “cruising”, “uncaring” and even “callous”. 

It was this statement that set the divide with the current Secretary of State; the last one devalued the staff to such an extent that he wanted rid of all that they did and let business profiteer out of their skills and service, and most objectionable of all, out of the sick, vulnerable and frail.

From 1948 to the mid-1970s, the NHS just got along and got on with the job. Medicine advanced, health outcomes improved, and the NHS established itself as the institution of miracles that we would all turn to admire and revere.

Then came the politicians desire to look like they were really at the helm; the call to restructure. This new, self-imposed biennial reorganisation has now become a tradition, and in order to look busy, Secretaries of States have continually announced the latest thoughts from the corridors of Whitehall, and those at the sharp end have had to endure the time-wasting, energy-sapping and costly reorganisations; of course, never adding to patient care.

Without doubt the hand grenade, as described by Tory MP Sarah Wollaston and now Chair of the Health Select Committee, of the Health and Social Care Act, 2012 has been the worse. 

No member of NHS staff wants to work in the private sector. It is working for the NHS, which gives staff the pride and the energy to get up and get on each day, doing things that would churn the stomachs of most government ministers.

They cannot take more efficiency savings or cuts, without knowing that patient care will be negatively impacted and therefore their own worth too.
And despite the enduring commitment staff have to continue to make for the NHS work, they are now being pushed to their limits, and a couple of weeks back – it drove our highly professional midwives, porters, pharmacists, speech and language therapists, chaplains and health visitors onto the streets to shout slogans at passers-by. It was a cry for help.

Whether Simon Stevens before the Health Select Committee talking about another £22bn worth of efficiency savings, David Cameron’s continuous reflections on why the NHS is so special for him, or even Labour’s light, and becoming heavier, austerity economic plans, it seems that no one is paying the slightest bit of notice to what 1.35m people working for the NHS are saying.

Since 2010:

  • - 15% real terms cut in basic pay – senior managers enjoyed their 11% rise (only this month YAS management enjoyed a 30% rise)
  • Loss of national recruitment and retention premium worth £3277
  • Loss of on call – for some, £10,000
  • Paying more for pensions – on average 3.2% more and working until you are 67, 68, who knows
  • Downbanding – this is skewing a job evaluation scheme to say that you are really not worth what your skills, knowledge and experience say you are
  • Increase in registration fees – a tax on working
  • Increase in car parking charges – a tax on going to work
  • Performance pay introduced
  • Removal of unsocial hours for staff off sick
  • Cuts to the in work injury benefit scheme
  • Cuts to mileage
  • Harsh sickness policies
  • Continual threats of reorganisation, vacancy freezes, cuts
Are you getting the picture?
  • 8 hours unpaid overtime
  • 38% of staff report work related stress
  • 24% have been bullied in the last year
  • Sickness rates continue to rise
  • Presenteeism increasing – just turning up sick
Staff are so proud of what they do, but they wouldn’t recommend it to a friend or family member, and they just can’t wait to get out.

The government made a serious mis-calculation in giving NHS staff the worst public sector pay deal – they judged that they were professional, caring, and yes 78% women – they wouldn’t squeal if we just took a little bit more from them. How insulting. How wrong.

Tell that to the mum of three I met on the picket line in Bristol on 13 October. She said that she had always just made ends meet, but was now in serious debt, and felt her dignity had been taken away and shameful. Or the staff in Nuneaton who are ashamed to say they work for the NHS when they go to the foodbank. It is a scandal that 40,000 people earn less than the living wage – that they can no longer afford to keep us safe from disease by cleaning the wards or passing on a few encouraging words in our moment of need.

It needn’t be that way.

If only governments listened to what the staff are saying, we would be in such a different place.

1.    By 2020 – the NHS will be £30bn in debt. Fund it – claim back the £70bn in tax evasion, that will do it.
2.    Let’s add in the £25 for tax avoidance, and we could pay off the £80bn PFI debt too – PFI should be nationalised, and then the contracts sorted out. In Northumberland the local council has bought out the PFI, and is now making a 0.5% profit from its NHS load, which is saving £4.7m year.
3.    Invest in the training of NHS staff to enable all to develop into the roles needed for the NHS of the future, yes, integrated with a publicly funded social care service too – would people really not mind paying a little more progressively determined tax for this peace of mind? Ask us.
4.    End the NHS market, and bring all services back together again. I am sure that many of these companies, as did Serco, would be only too glad to hand back their contracts; if not take them back. The market is estimated to be rising to about 15% of the NHS budget. Think what we could do with this.
5.    Stop robbing the NHS staff of what they are owed – pay them. We do need to sort out the false divides of doctors, dentists and senior managers. The doctors in Unite all agree that everyone makes an equal and different contribution, and should be equally respected for that. Pay inequality has escalated in the NHS, like a microcosm of the economy; it must be redressed. Jeremy Hunt – won’t even talk to us. What would Labour do?

Nationalisation, funding, training, listening to staff and paying them fairly.

Maybe a simple agenda, but one that will sustain our national treasure and one of the world’s largest workforces for another generation. One that will improve our health outcomes and create a healthier nation.

Is Labour willing to be bold? What do you think?