Public Sector Review: Health: Nurses get biggest rise in a decade

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The Independent Online
IT WAS the biggest pay rise for nurses for 10 years, according to Frank Dobson - but they were still beaten by the doctors.

Overall, most nurses (about 300,000) were awarded increases of 4.7 per cent, as expected, with the biggest rises of 12 per cent going to 27,000 newly qualified staff - taking the minimum starting salary to pounds 14,400. A further 70,000 of the lowest paid received rises of 8.2 per cent.

But general practitioners did better with a rise of 3.5 per cent this year plus a further 4 per cent held over from last year, giving an overall rise of 7.65 per cent, equivalent to a cash increase of pounds 4,245. From 1 April, full-time GPs will earn pounds 59,715 on average and the highest- paid consultant with an A-plus distinction award pounds 120,130 compared with the highest-paid nurse who will earn pounds 29,485. All the rises are to be paid in full, as recommended by the pay review bodies, without staging.

The biggest gainers are the 5,000 newly qualified nurses in the capital who benefit, in addition to the 12 per cent rise, from a 15.4 per cent hike in the London allowance. It is the first such rise in five years, taking it to pounds 2,205 in the inner city. In inner London the starting pay for all newly qualified nurses will be pounds 17,325, compared with the current figure of pounds 14,765.

The announcement, which had been heavily trailed and contained few surprises, drew a subdued response from the unions and a warning from NHS managers that the rises were unaffordable.

Christine Hancock, general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, said the increase in starting salaries was welcome but "4.7 per cent simply isn't going to be enough to keep these experienced and highly skilled women and men in the NHS".

The British Medical Association accused Mr Dobson of rejecting a central plank of the doctors' pay review body report, which called for an extra pounds 50m to be paid to consultants in 2000-2001 to compensate them for a rising workload.

Dr Ian Bogle, chairman of the BMA said: "It is totally unacceptable that this recommendation has not been accepted by the Government. Senior hospital doctors will feel a deep sense of betrayal."

Mr Dobson announced that pounds 100m would be transferred to health authorities from the pounds 1bn NHS Modernisation Fund - of which about pounds 350m is remaining after spending on cutting waiting lists and setting up Primary Care Groups - to help to pay for the increases. He said there had always been an element in the fund for uprating pay and claimed this would not jeopardise plans to modernise the service.

"There is sufficient money included in the three-year pounds 21bn settlement for staffing requirements and for investment in new buildings, new equipment and new ways of working," he said.

However, the NHS Confederation, representing NHS trusts and health authorities, insisted that the rises could not be met, even with the extra pounds 100m, without scaling down expected developments in the service.

The Confederation calculated that next year's historically generous 6.6 per cent cash increase for health authorities would be 1.2 points short of the total needed to meet the cost of this year's pay award, the full-year cost of last year's staged award and other centrally imposed measures such as the modernisation of mental health services and compliance with European Union working time directives.

Stephen Thornton, chief executive, said: "The pay increases are sensible and will improve recruitment. But for the core improvements in cancer and heart disease services that have been trumpeted by the Government we will have to wait another year. It is going to be a tough year for the NHS next year."

The Nurses

Monica Hirst, 36, (left) community staff nurse in Parkside, north- west London, on E grade. Qualified in 1985. Salary (before the rise) pounds 16,312.

"The 12 per cent should have been paid across the board. A rise of 4.7 per cent will do nothing to retain nurses like me. I am considering leaving. I have looked at care work in social services and the voluntary sector, which is better paid, and I wouldn't have to work weekends or unsocial hours.

"It is such a shame. I like nursing. I go to people's homes doing dressings and giving injections - whatever nursing they need ... But as a single parent with a daughter and a mortgage I can't afford to live on the salary. It is very hard meeting those payments on the house and car."

Nora Pearce, 50, (right) midwifery sister, Kingston Hospital, London, on G grade. Qualified in 1985. Salary (before the rise) pounds 19,775.

"I am absolutely delighted at the big rise for newly qualified nurses. We need to get the girls in and they need a decent salary when they get their degree. But it will do nothing to retain the girls who have been qualified 15 or 20 years and who are senior staff nurses at the top of E grade. They are the backbone of the NHS and they are taken for granted.

"I am married with four grown-up children. I am not poor but I feel badly paid for what I do. When I compare the responsibility I have with that of people who are better paid, that's when I feel aggrieved. If I have a bad hair day, someone is going to die."

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