Ministers cannot deny nursing staff a fair pay rise

Dame Donna Kinnair 21 Oct 2020 Chief Executive and General Secretary

Below is text from Donna Kinnair’s column in The Times Red Box on Monday 19 October, which first appeared under the headline ‘Spending millions on consultants makes a mockery of nurses’ pay’

We have all heard by now about the millions being spent on private sector consultants to deliver the troubled Track and Trace app. 

As a nurse, I understand the importance of a well-functioning track and trace system in combatting this terrible virus. 

But I also understand why nursing staff – stressed-out, burnt-out and completely exhausted – will be outraged to hear about consultants being paid in one week what they earn in a year. 

In the past decade, nursing salaries have failed to keep pace with inflation. And now, there is a staffing crisis in nursing, with roughly 50,000 nursing vacancies in the NHS across the UK. You can imagine the strain this puts on the nursing staff we do have.

The Royal College of Nursing is actively campaigning to right this historical wrong with our Fair Pay for Nursing campaign. And by paying such sums to the non-clinicians in a pandemic, ministers cannot deny the clinical staff a fair pay rise now too. 

The Prime Minister himself knows how vital those nursing staff are, having had treatment when he contracted COVID-19 and needed a hospital stay.

The second COVID-19 wave comes at a time when the entire health and care system typically groans under winter pressures. 

Nursing staff are facing this reality with professionalism, but they are humans, with fears and anxiety of catching this virus and putting their families at risk. And the legacy of early pandemic when they worked with insufficient or poor-quality gowns, face masks and aprons.

Nurses are professionals and we understand that exposure to infections or viruses are an inherent risk to the job. The safety of our patients and giving them good care remains our priority.

So, the demand for fair pay is not a call for a COVID-bonus, or a reward for responding to the pandemic. The demand for fair pay is about recognising that nursing is a highly-skilled safety-critical profession – with massive recruitment and retention issues. 

The latest CQC report reveals the extent to which services such as mental health and social care were already under huge pressures due to a lack of specialist staff. Now, COVID-19 has left these services struggling to catch up.

The impact on society from the failures to tackle the nursing workforce crisis is now startlingly clear, with those most in need facing the biggest problems accessing the care they need.

We went into the first wave of the pandemic without enough nursing staff or protective equipment. A recent survey of our membership showed that roughly a third are thinking of leaving the profession, citing low pay as the reason. 

We cannot afford to lose any more highly skilled nursing staff. And we cannot afford to fail to attract more to join us.

Investing in the country’s health and care services must be seen by the Government as a priority. The public are with us – fresh public polling by Engage Britain shows that NHS staff pay and working conditions outrank wait times as highest priority health and care issue.

If the government can spend thousands of pounds a day on consultants working on Track and Trace, it must pay nursing staff fairly, all year-round.

Ministers showed their support for nursing staff by joining the rest of the nation and clapping on their doorstep on Thursday evenings. 

Now we are saying, no more claps - just pay us fairly for the tough job we do.

Read the article in The Times here

Dame Donna Kinnair

Dame Donna Kinnair

Chief Executive & General Secretary

Prior to her appointment as Acting Chief Executive & General Secretary, Dame Donna was Director of Nursing, Policy and Practice and worked with UK-wide RCN staff to drive and implement RCN professional nursing, policy and practice strategy.

Before joining the RCN, Donna held various roles, including Clinical Director of Emergency Medicine at Barking, Havering and Redbridge University Hospitals Trust.
Donna advised the PM’s Commission on the future of Nursing and Midwifery in 2010 and served as nurse/child health assessor to the Victoria Climbié Inquiry.

Page last updated - 13/05/2021