NHS staff 'quitting to work in supermarkets due to low pay'

Jeremy Hunt says nurses’ pay is ‘above average’ as nurses consider first strike in history

Katie Forster
Health Correspondent
@katieforster
Monday 08 May 2017 18:39
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A trade association for the NHS says the 1 per cent limit on pay rises for health workers is putting patients at risk
A trade association for the NHS says the 1 per cent limit on pay rises for health workers is putting patients at risk

NHS staff are leaving to stack shelves in supermarkets as their pay is so low, health service bosses have said.

An organisation representing NHS trusts in England said a “significant” number of hospitals had reported lower-paid staff leaving to work outside the health service.

NHS Providers said a pay cap for NHS staff, that limits pay rises to 1 per cent a year until 2019, should be lifted as patient safety is being put at risk.

Labour have said they will remove the pay rise limit, which this year amounted to a pay cut in real terms as inflation is at 2.3 per cent.

“Growing problems of recruitment and retention are making it harder for trusts to ensure patient safety. Unsustainable staffing gaps are quickly opening up in hospitals, mental health and community trusts and ambulance services,” said Chris Hopson, chief executive of NHS Providers.

“Years of pay restraint and stressful working conditions are taking their toll. Pay is becoming uncompetitive. Significant numbers of trusts say lower-paid staff are leaving to stack shelves in supermarkets rather than carry on working in the NHS.

“And we are getting consistent reports of retention problems because of working pressures in the health service causing stress and burnout.”

A vote to gauge opinion among nurses on a possible strike over low pay closed yesterday. The results will be announced at the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) congress this weekend to decide whether to launch an official ballot for a nursing strike, which would be the first in history.

Bryony Ife, a nurse working in an acute medical unit in Winchester, told The Independent two of her colleagues were considering moving to Australia “because the pay is better, and it’s a higher quality of life”.

“The thing the most irritating for nurses is that you can earn the exact same working in Tesco or Asda. I’m not saying those jobs aren’t stressful, but it’s not the same type of pressures we experience,” she said.

“Where I work, we’re saving lives on a daily basis. We’re being put through all this stress, and we could get the same amount working 9-5 somewhere else.”

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The RCN says the Government has inflicted a 14 per cent pay cut on nurses since 2010, but Jeremy Hunt said yesterday nurses’ pay is above average.

Janet Davies, head of the RCN, told The Independent reports that 6,500 nurses were turning to food banks were correct, adding: “The worst examples are people who are having their houses repossessed.

“We’ve had some potential suicides; people ringing us and requiring urgent counselling. You do have those every now and again, but there has been an increase.”

Asked by Andrew Marr yesterday whether there were “complex reasons” nurses have to go to food banks, Mr Hunt said: “Well let’s look at the facts.

“The minimum a nurse can be paid in this country is £22,000, £27,000 in inner London. That assumes they do no night shifts or antisocial hours, which in practice most of them will.

“The average pay for nurses is £31,000, which is more than the national average.”

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