In the first challenge to the Government's tough financial plans for the NHS, health union leaders said a rise of up to 20 per cent was necessary to bring nurses into line with other public service workers.
Evidence submitted by unions representing 500,000 nurses, midwives and other staff to the independent pay review body yesterday shows that newly registered nurses on a starting salary of pounds 12,385 would need a 13 per cent increase to bring them into line with the pounds 13,920 paid to qualified social workers and a 16 per cent rise to match the pounds 14,463 paid to most teachers on a comparable scale. A police constable's starting salary is 20 per cent more.
The unions claim that staff shortages and increased workload are deterring new recruits from joining the profession. Many newly qualified nurses are choosing to work outside the NHS in private hospitals and old people's homes.
The increased difficulty that NHS trusts are experiencing in recruiting nurses is indicated by last year's 13 per cent rise in the use of agency staff. Some agencies, who charge hospitals commission for finding temporary nurses, have been seeking staff abroad.
Last year, the previous Conservative government awarded nurses a 3.3 per cent pay rise, paid in two stages which reduced its actual value to 2.4 per cent - below the rate of inflation which was then 2.5 per cent. At the same time, the Tory government announced a one-year moratorium on its experiment with local pay. The new Labour government announced in May that it would stick with national pay awards.
Frank Dobson, Secretary of State for Health, has repeatedly stressed the importance of nursing staff in the NHS. But tight health service budgets leave little room for substantial pay increases.
Christine Hancock, general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, said there was a need to recognise the real needs of nurses. "The biggest problem facing the NHS is the serious shortage of nurses and it is one that is costing it a lot of money. Hospitals are wasting cash if they are hiring temporary staff."
"The Secretary of State wants to see the country go through the winter treating patients better than it did last year. He is worried about rising waiting lists. He needs enough nurses to take it through the winter and to keep waiting lists down."
The RCN is also calling for better holidays, maternity leave and working arrangements. It said 60 per cent of nurses now feel they would be better paid working outside the NHS.
Ms Hancock added: "To have people working under such fantastic pressure is not good. The Government came in on a wave of goodwill and it now has a window of opportunity. Nurses want to see that their problems are recognised."
Maggie Dunn, chair of the Nursing and Midwifery Staff Negotiating Council, which presented the evidence to the pay review body, said: "We have falling numbers of registered nurses, not enough people training to meet the demand and an increasingly elderly workforce. By the end of the decade, 25 per cent of the workforce will have reached retirement age.
"What we need to do is attract new staff, nurses who have had career breaks and mature students who can offer different skills. However, we can't do any of this unless we have an appropriate financial award."
Doctors will submit their evidence to the Pay Review Body next week.Reuse content