Sara Gorton - Summit 2017

MiP Summit 2017: Tide Turning on NHS Pay

Thu 02 Nov 2017

Matt Foster reports from MiP's 2017 members summit on 31 October.

The “tide of consensus” on NHS pay is turning after years of austerity, attendees at MIP’s 2017 Members’ Summit were told, as Unison’s Sara Gorton set out how trade unions are pushing for lasting change at a time of political turmoil.

Since the general election, there has been increased pressure on the Treasury to loosen long-running restrictions on public sector pay, with Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt already announcing an end to the 1% pay cap.

Gorton, who is head of health at Unison and leads on pay negotiations for 14 key unions, said there was now a view that those pushing for a better deal for the NHS workforce “might be getting somewhere”.

 “There might be a glimmer of hope alongside the evidence that’s stacking up of the damage that has been visited on the NHS workforce by austerity pay policy,” she said.

 Gorton shed light on the recent pay claim submitted by 14 unions, including MiP, who together represent more than 1 million NHS staff. She told delegates that the claim was designed to unite all the key health unions behind a common vision, and to fill a political “vacuum where we felt some pay policy should be”.

Gorton said: “Following the election, the turmoil that followed politically meant that public sector pay was an issue – but nobody knew how to deal with it. As trade unions we felt that what we needed to do was to build some clarity into the system for our members.”

The joint pay claim – submitted directly to ministers in September – calls on the Treasury to set aside funds for a 3.9% pay rise to keep pace with the rising cost of living, as measured by the Retail Prices Index (RPI). 

It also calls for a further £800 to be made available to all staff, with Gorton saying such a move would be vital “to indicate the government acknowledges the need to start to restore lost pay”. She highlighted the findings of a recent ComRes poll, which found that the majority (69%) of British people backed the claim for an additional £800 for NHS staff being paid on top of an inflation-linked pay increase. 

Since the claim was submitted, the health secretary has said he will be making a "robust case" to the Treasury to ease the “frustration” felt by NHS staff at years of below-inflation pay rises – but he has hinted that such a move is likely to come with strings attached.

Hunt told the BBC: “The Chancellor has said that if we can have a negotiation and look at some of the ways that we could improve productivity at the same time then he is willing to have a discussion with me about whether extra resources can be found.”

Highlighting those comments, Gorton stressed that unions were willing to play their part in making meaningful reforms to the NHS pay system, but she argued that the “best answer to the productivity puzzle is to invest” in staff. 

“Our priorities are a pay structure that is [...] simpler and easier to explain, which reduces the time taken for people to get the full rate for their job, removes some of the overlap between bands, and which looks at restructuring bands 1 to 3 as a priority,” she told the audience. 

Unison’s head of health also praised the “fantastic campaign” run by the Royal College of Nursing in recent months to make the case for increasing nurses’ pay. However, she warned ministers against seeking “to cherry-pick and to set pay by focusing on one particular occupational group or focusing on one particular point in the system”.

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