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Letter to the Health Secretary criticising public sector pay announcement

14 July 2023

Dear Secretary of State,

Yesterday’s decision by the Prime Minister and Chancellor on public sector pay means that nursing staff, and all those on NHS Agenda for Change terms and conditions in England, have received the lowest pay rise in respect of 2023/24 among public sector workers. Inflation remains stubbornly high, and with an ongoing crisis of living costs and a rise in mortgage rates, the 2023-24 pay award of five percent appears increasingly inadequate and has been eclipsed by the pay awards for other public sector workers.

This highlights the long-term disparity, pay erosion and disadvantage of the nursing profession and is, frankly, unjust. Why does nursing deserve the least? Particularly, given nursing is one of the most diverse and female-dominated professions within the public sector. The government has very clearly signalled it does not recognise or value their public service in the NHS compared with other professions.

The government’s continued failure to value the nursing profession is seriously harming morale and risking the collective effort to rebuild our NHS.

Just weeks ago, more than 100,000 RCN members voted in favour of continued strike action. Pay, terms and conditions remain an important issue for nursing staff to recognise and reward their knowledge, skills and experience to ensure better retention and help attract more people into the profession. Growing the disparity between nursing staff and their public sector counterparts will do nothing to address the frustration and anger our members feel and you have only alienated them further.

The NHS Long Term Workforce Plan published last week sets out ambitious nursing recruitment targets. These will simply not be realised if nursing continues to be treated as a second-class profession.  Furthermore, as the 36th Report of the NHS Pay Review Body highlights, the leaver rates for nursing have increased since their previous report and are at historically high levels.  Addressing retention with fair pay for nursing must be part of the solution, and not just to recruit new nursing staff to match the high outflow levels. We will be writing to you with a formal response to the plan shortly, as there are a number of aspects upon which we require significant assurances pertaining to safety for patients and nursing staff.

The government’s divisive approach to public sector pay is both cavalier and reckless at a time of the greatest industrial unrest the NHS has ever seen.  You have once again disrespected nursing staff delivering essential services. The NHS and social care system is on its knees. You are haemorrhaging staff and recruitment into education is woefully reduced with UCAS figures demonstrating more than a 16% downturn in applications for nursing courses. International recruitment is a sticking plaster and is totally unsustainable. How much longer can the system withstand these challenges?

Secretary of State, you have seen and heard the anger of nurses who stood on picket lines across the country. Our strike action may have ended for now, but the half a million plus members I represent, and the patients they dedicate their professional lives to, deserve so much better than this. You and the government have a responsibility to act now.

Yours sincerely,   

Pat Cullen

General Secretary & Chief Executive 

Page last updated - 12/12/2023