Thank you to those who have recently contacted me about the NHS pay rise.
First, I should be clear that NHS pay has not yet been finalised, we are at the beginning of the process, not the end. The NHS is one of the world’s largest employers and any pay change has significant financial impact and therefore is always a matter of focus and negotiation.
But with the pandemic I know we have been through a very unusual year and there is a great deal of good will and deserved gratitude being expressed towards our NHS workers – and indeed towards all those who have been on the front line and been key workers in both the public and private sectors... Many people want to show special recognition that goes beyond gratitude and into financial reward. I understand that. I know that many of my constituents feel strongly about NHS pay in particular and I believe the passion, commitment, and specialist knowledge of our NHS staff is part of what makes our NHS so special. In particular, I recognise the sacrifice, commitment and dedication of our NHS workers over the past year. So while most of the public sector will be having a pay freeze, the NHS have been singled out for an increase.
I believe it is important to recognise this, but everyone knows that the pandemic has had real consequences on public finances which means we can not do all the things we would like to do or indeed financially reward everyone in a way we would prefer.
What the government has tried to do with the initial recommendation for a 1% pay rise for NHS staff is to give NHS staff as much as it can afford at the present time. It is also important to recognise the broader context - all but the lowest paid workers across the public sector have had their pay frozen for 2021/22. 700,0000 people in the private sector have found themselves without a job due to this pandemic. In addition, we should not forget that over one million NHS staff also continue to benefit from multi-year pay deals agreed with trade unions, including a pay rise of over 12% for newly qualified nurses, with the average nurse pay now £34,000 per year, and that junior doctors' pay has been increased by 8.2%. Some will also benefit from pay increments which can lift average pay increases above the headline baseline pay increase figure.
The Government asked the independent pay review bodies for their recommendations and will carefully consider them: it is right that the Government does not pre-empt these recommendations.
I know that the Independent Pay Review Bodies will make recommendations in late Spring, when they will be considered by the Government. It is right that the Government does not pre-empt these recommendations. While at this stage I am not aware whether a decision has been made about the date from which the pay rise will apply, I will of course continue to monitor this issue closely. The Pay Review Bodies will also consider important factors such as morale, retention and recruiting.
Of course those on the front line in the NHS and in care homes have made an invaluable contribution to the fight against Coronavirus and I have great admiration for those in these vital professions.
I also welcome the investment that the Government has already made in the NHS workforce, including £513m in professional development and increased recruitment, £30m on staff mental health support including wellbeing hubs and occupational health support, and the new bursary programme giving at least £5,000 each year to new nursing, midwifery, and Allied Health professional students.
I know that several constituents raised the cost of the test and trace system and I want to clarify that I firmly support the money spent during 2020-21 to support this programme, with a further £15 billion for 2021-22, funding which provides vital support for this crucial service. The costs of the pandemic have been enormous, including what has been spent on the Test and Trace service, but there is no other way of cutting the chains of transmission effectively and this system has been particularly instrumental in tackling outbreaks in care homes, prisons, factories and other work places. It is an essential part of the response to the virus and, as such, the Government’s spending is not only justified, but absolutely necessary.
Nevertheless, I will, of course, continue to monitor this issue closely and will make my constituents’ concerns known to ministerial colleagues, and thank you again for taking the time to contact me.