Ahead of the budget, the UK’s largest nursing union, the Royal College of Nursing (RCN), is putting pressure on the government to urgently find funding for the 6% pay rise promised last summer to nursing staff working in general practice.
The calls come as new survey data from the RCN reveals over three-quarters (77%) of respondents who are general practice nursing staff in England did not receive the full pay rise promised, and almost half of (44%) respondents received no pay rise at all for 2023/24.
The failure to pay last year’s promised rise has left staff feeling undervalued, with some saying they’re considering leaving the profession. Nearly 1,500 nursing staff employed by GP practices completed the survey. When the pay rise was announced last summer, the British Medical Association (BMA) jointly welcomed the rise, but said more needed to be done to improve the pay of practice staff.
The RCN is calling on the government to completely overhaul the way nursing staff are paid to recognise their skills, experience, and safety-critical role. General practice nursing staff are often the first port of call for the public and play a fundamental part in health promotion and preventative medicine.
Nursing professionals employed by general practices don’t have the same pay, terms, and conditions as their counterparts in the NHS. Employment terms are set by each practice, leaving many staff without protections beyond statutory sick pay and maternity leave.
The RCN is seeking a change to the funding model through which pay rises to general practice staff are made. Though the government has announced they should get a 6% pay rise, it pays for this through a funding calculation based on the size of the practice and how many patients they have. It's then down to the practice - as the employer - to determine whether it can afford to pass this on to staff as a pay rise. Some practices have paid the full 6%, whereas others have paid less than that, and some not at all. We want the government to step in and ensure every practice has enough funds to deliver the pay rise to all its staff.
The research shows a breakdown in trust between staff and employers – nearly two-thirds of respondents (64%) expressed concern about the lack of transparency from employers regarding the pay award.
The findings underscore the urgent need for immediate government intervention. The RCN has written to the health secretary and health minister to demand action and has submitted evidence to the spring budget on the issue.
In response to these findings, Patricia Marquis, RCN England Director, said:
"Relations between nursing staff and the government have never been so strained. Nursing pay needs a fresh start – staff report feeling undervalued and undermined after over a decade of pay restraint, and late pay awards.
“The government should be valuing the role nursing staff in primary care play, instead of leaving them short-changed. They keep communities healthy, detecting disease early, reducing hospital admissions, and preventing more patients from ending up at A&E.
“If the government was serious about addressing waiting lists, it would immediately provide ring-fenced money to fund the full 6% pay increase it promised general practice nursing staff.”
Notes to editors
The RCN surveyed members working in general practices in England between 23 November 2023 and 15 January 2024.
- More than three-quarters of respondents (77%) have not received the full pay award the government promised for the 2023/24 financial year.
- 44% of survey respondents said they did not receive any pay award last year.
- A third of survey respondents said they had received a pay award, but of less than 6%.
- Only 1 in 5 respondents (20%) received a pay award of 6%
- Among those who received the 6% pay award, nearly a fifth (19%) have not received back pay to April 2023.
- Nearly two-thirds of respondents (64%) are concerned their employers are not being transparent about their pay award for 2023/2024.
The 6% pay rise for nursing staff working in general practices was announced in July, with funds made available to practices in November and December 2023, through an increase of the Global Sum. Ahead of this, the RCN called on the government to commit to additional funding if nursing staff were left without at least 6%. The Global Sum is based on patient numbers, and some practices have raised concerns that they don’t have enough funds to cover the pay rise for all staff.
In early February 2024, general practice nurses were added into the Additional Roles Reimbursement Scheme (ARRS). The RCN is concerned this will emphasise the disparity in pay between nurses employed under NHS pay, terms and conditions and GP nurses employed under varying, and often poorer pay terms and conditions. The ARRS roles work alongside the existing staff in a practice so not only will physiotherapists and pharmacists be on better pay, terms and conditions, but so too will nursing colleagues who are doing the same job.
To bring waiting lists down, the government needs to urgently address the staffing crisis – and that starts with resetting nursing pay. Since 2022, general practices in England have been dealing with an extra 420,000 appointments but in this time only an additional 466 nursing staff have taken up roles working in GP surgeries.