NHS unions unite in pay plea to ease staff 'crisis'

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The Independent Online

Labour Editor

Leaders of 500,000 nurses, midwives and health visitors yesterday called for an 8 per cent national pay increase to ease a "growing crisis" over recruitment and retention in the National Health Service.

Warring unions united yesterday to present evidence to a pay review body which will recommend a salary rise next year.

Unison and other health unions, who this week agreed a resolution of the dispute over this year's pay increase, joined the Royal College of Nursing, which has so far resisted a deal, to urge a package aimed at regaining nurses' position in the pay league table.

The unions argued that it would take an increase of 8 per cent to enable a staff nurse to earn the same as a newly qualified teacher, one of the traditional "comparators". A newly qualified teacher receives a basic of pounds 12,594 a year compared with a D grade staff nurse on pounds 11,320.

The gap had widened even more in other grades. An unqualified social worker now earned 40 per cent more then non-registered nursing staff on pounds 7,500 a year.

In their submission, nurses' representatives said they had suffered real pay cuts for the past three years and that qualified people were leaving the service in increasing numbers, many of them to join the private sector. More than 13,000 nurses had left the NHS last year, according to the joint submission. For the first time ever more nurses were leaving the central register for the profession than joining it.

Maggie Dunn, of Unison, the largest health union, said there was a crisis in the "supply and demand of nursing staff". The NHS was failing to attract new recruits."If the pay review body does not make a substantial pay award for nurses next year, the NHS will run into very severe difficulties," she said.

Phil Gray, director of labour relations at the RCN, said trusts were unable "to get the right staff in the right place at the right time". Referring to a split among the unions this year over a 1 per cent national increase with up to 2 per cent to be negotiated at trusts level, he said: "We need a sizeable increase in pay next year to get away from the divisions of this year."

An RCN spokeswoman said the settlement agreed by the leaders of other unions earlier this week was at variance with their backing for the call for a national increase next year.

Leaders of Unison and organisations representing NHS professionals and therapists agreed a settlement which provided for local deals, albeit with a strong national input. Under the proposed agreement, which is the subject of ballots, there will be local pay settlements at NHS trust level as one part of a national framework for settling wages.

Under the package, both management and unions will agree on a going rate during those negotiations, which will provide a minimum rate on which to base next year's bargaining. The roles of the review body and national negotiating machinery for non-nursing staff will also be preserved.

The RCN refused to take part in the talks and is concentrating on winning a de facto national agreement this year by settling on a local basis.