Pay: You've got to admit, it's getting better

The recent pay deal left many feeling gloomy, but there are reasons to be cheerful, says Chris Green

Over the past five years, few issues in the NHS have been as contentious as that of how much the staff are paid. Just three weeks ago, it was revealed that GPs had received a pay rise of 10 per cent within 12 months, bringing the average salary of a family doctor up to a whopping £110,000. Yet in September, the Royal College of Nursing accepted the Government's 2 per cent pay rise for nurses in England with "great reluctance" and "a heavy heart", according to general secretary Peter Carter. It was the second year running that a salary deal below the rate of inflation had been offered, in line with Gordon Brown's commitment to similarly gradual pay increases across the public sector.

But the seemingly immovable cloud hanging over nursing salaries has a silver lining. Things are not as bad as they were five years ago. In 2004, the Government launched Agenda for Change, the most radical shake-up of the NHS pay system since the service was conceived in 1948.

Affecting more than a million staff – excluding doctors, dentists and senior managers – the agreement has created a much fairer system of payment that rewards nurses for the type of jobs they do, and the specialist knowledge they need to do them. Under the old system, many employees with a host of specialist skills found themselves unrewarded and underpaid.

"We're seeing more people coming back into nursing because the salaries are a bit better, the working hours are more flexible and the career progression is clearer," says Nick Goodwin, a fellow at the King's Fund, the London-based charitable health foundation. "There are also more chances of having your job upgraded, if you take on more skills besides the usual tasks you're asked to do. It's definitely a lot better than it was."

A nurses' starting salary is now £19,700, or £22,000 if you live in or around London. This might be slightly less than most university graduates earn when they begin their first job, but as nursing salaries in the NHS now rise incrementally, you're guaranteed a pay rise after a year. Those who are keen to start racing up the career ladder also don't have to sit in the same job for a minimum length of time: if you can prove you've learnt new skills, your salary will be reviewed. You could eventually be earning up to £40,000 as a consultant or advanced specialist.

Career progression within the NHS is also a lot less hazy than it used to be, thanks to the new "Knowledge and Skills Framework". This was a key part of the Agenda for Change, in which the NHS committed to train and develop its staff while they in turn pledged to the learn skills their employer needed.

While previously nurses could be stuck in the same job for years without any prospect of progression, they are now positively encouraged to broaden their knowledge: this in turn unlocks the door to higher wages.

"There are many opportunities for people to build their career in a way that suits them and direct it the way they want it to go," says Foluke Ajayi, head of careers and workforce supply at NHS Employers, which represents health trusts. "It's not about inflicting responsibility on people; it's about rewarding them for doing the work they'd like to do."

Flexible working hours are another perk of the job. Although the standard requirement for a full-time NHS nurse is 37.5 hours a week, these rules can be bent depending on an individual's situation. There may be core hours when you have to be at work, but allowances are made for those who have commitments as carers, or those who prefer to start late and finish late, or start early and finish early.

Like most public sector jobs, nursing has above-average pension provision. When the Agenda for Change was brought in, the NHS introduced a "final salary" pension scheme: this favours those who are approaching retirement and wish to reduce their hours and working commitments, without damaging their pension plan. The employee's highest salary is effectively frozen.

"An NHS pension is one of the better ones, along with teachers and academics," says Nick Goodwin, "and given the nature of the work, I think it'll remain so."

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Under the skin: Sarah Kane in May 1998
theatreThe story behind a new season of Sarah Kane plays
Arts and Entertainment
Preening: Johnny Depp in 'Mortdecai'
filmMortdecai becomes actor's fifth consecutive box office bomb
Sport
Bradford City's reward for their memorable win over Chelsea is a trip to face either Sunderland or Fulham (Getty)
football
News
Lars Andersen took up archery in his mid thirties
video
Voices
Focus E15 Mothers led a protest to highlight the lack of affordable housing in London
voicesLondon’s housing crisis amounts to an abuse of human rights, says Grace Dent
Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Student

Ashdown Group: Trainee / Graduate Helpdesk Analyst

£20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A highly reputable business is looking to rec...

Ashdown Group: Graduate Data Analyst - Essex - £25,000

£23500 - £25000 per annum + Training: Ashdown Group: Graduate Data analyst/Sys...

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Account Manager

£16000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Graduate Account Manager is r...

Guru Careers: Graduate Account Manager / Sales Executive

£18k + Uncapped Commission (£60k Y1 OTE): Guru Careers: A Graduate Account Man...

Day In a Page

Woman who was sent to three Nazi death camps describes how she escaped the gas chamber

Auschwitz liberation 70th anniversary

Woman sent to three Nazi death camps describes surviving gas chamber
DSK, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel

The inside track on France's trial of the year

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel:
As provocative now as they ever were

Sarah Kane season

Why her plays are as provocative now as when they were written
Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of a killing in Iraq 11 years ago

Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of another killing

Japanese mood was against what was seen as irresponsible trips to a vicious war zone
Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea