Why dog warden earns the same as RCN

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NURSES SHOULD get a pay increase to stop the escalating recruitment crisis in the profession, Frank Dobson, the Secretary of State for Health, said yesterday.

Mr Dobson said the Government would ask the independent body which sets nurses' pay to agree a new rise which would not, unlike this year's, be made in stages.

Malcolm Wing, head of the nursing sector of the public sector union Unison, said nurses had to be paid salaries comparable with similar professions.

He added: "At the moment that is not happening. There is quite a glaring gap."

A basic grade nurse starts on pounds 12,855 - compared with a police constable on pounds 15,438, a teacher on pounds 15,012 and the most common grade of social worker on pounds 14,437. Nurses' leaders also highlighted an advertisement in a Northern Ireland newspaper for a local authority dog warden at a starting salary of pounds 12,500 - only slightly less than the salary offered for a basic-grade nurse in an adjacent hospital trust advertisement.

Mr Dobson said better salaries were only one part of a strategy which would include flexible working and career development to address the recruitment crisis. He said any recommended pay rises could not be guaranteed to be above inflation.

Last month Mr Dobson promised to give the NHS an extra 15,000 trained nurses and 6,000 trainees in the next three years to compensate for 140,000 who left under the Tories.

The need was highlighted by a survey this week which showed a sharp drop in the number of nursing students and another which claimed widespread disillusionment among cervical cancer screening staff.

A BBC Newsroom South East survey found 1,800 vacancies in the region's 13 acute hospital trusts - up to 20 per cent in some.

Christine Hancock, of the Royal College of Nursing, welcomed the plans to end staged awards. She added: "The real issue is the level of pay. Nurses must be paid in line with people in similar professions."