Outrage as nurses' pay is squeezed

Doctors get rises of up to 6.8%
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The Government ran into a hail of criticism yesterday by staging above- inflation rises for most of Britain's 1.3 million public sector workers but leaving nurses with a guaranteed national increase of only 2 per cent.

Recommendations by five independent pay review bodies will give rises of between 3.7 to 5.6 per cent for the armed forces, 3.8 to 6.8 per cent for doctors and dentists, 3.75 per cent for teachers, an estimated average of 4 to 4.5 per cent for performance-related senior civil servants and 3.9 per cent for judges.

But a 2 per cent national award for nurses, with any further increase to be determined locally by trusts, and the decision to stage the other rises provoked outrage from unions and the opposition parties.

The staging of the rises - involving holding back 1 per cent of the 1 April rises, excluding nurses, until 1 December - will save pounds 150m, while the total pounds 735m package will have to be financed "as far as possible" out of existing programmes and efficiency savings. The staging will minimise the risk that councils will have to sack teachers to pay for an increase above the 3 per cent local authorities had expected. Ministers also hope it will reduce nurses' anger at working alongside junior doctors being paid increases of up to nearly 7 per cent.

Officials insisted the settlements were "affordable", but Andrew Smith, Labour's Treasury spokesman, said the staging of teachers' and other awards was a "deception and an admission of economic failure by the Government, who are saying that they are doing so badly . . . they cannot afford to pay at once increases which they accept are justified".

Malcolm Bruce, the Liberal Democrats' Treasury spokes- man, said a 4 per cent settlement was a "transparently obvious pre-election bribe".

Leaders of 500,000 nursing staff are expected to meet on Monday to draw up a campaign to ensure they receive between 3 and 4 per cent on top of the 2 per cent recommended nationally by the pay review body and endorsed by ministers. The 500 National Health Service trusts have been told they can top up the 2 per cent with locally determined pay.

The National Association of Health Authorities and Trusts indicated last night that it would expect productivity and efficiency improvements in return for a local top-up. Its director, Philip Hunt, said trusts would not allow increases to eat into money earmarked for services.

Stephen Dorrell, Secretary of State for Health, said: "These pay rises are in the context of the economy where earnings are rising three and a quarter per cent. These are reasonably generous awards." Limiting the pay rises would provide more resources for patient care in the NHS. "If the nurses are comparing 2 per cent with the 6.8 per cent for the junior doctors, they are not comparing like with like."

Union leaders yesterday expressed the view that productivity improvements normally meant job losses and Chris Trinder, chief economist at the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy, said it was unlikely that the increase could be afforded.

Bob Abberley, head of health at Unison the public service union, said his members would be "angry and disappointed" about the nurses' pay award.

Teachers' jobs could be lost after a higher-than-expected pay award, teaching unions predicted last night.

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