Thank you for contacting me about the pay and conditions of nurses.
I would like to start by saying that I am extremely grateful for the dedication of nursing staff in very difficult circumstances over the last few years. In particular, I appreciate that the challenge of working in the NHS during the pandemic and through the current period when the demand for patient care is very high, has taken a significant toll on nurses.
The last few years have also amplified existing challenges in the nursing workforce, such as the ability to retain experienced nursing staff to continue working in the NHS. Extending flexible working is one way to alleviate these challenges in several professions, so that NHS staff have greater choice over their working patterns and achieve a better work-life balance.
Throughout, the Government’s approach has been to protect the safety of both patients and staff. As a result of talks between the Government, NHS employers and the unions, an offer was made for NHS staff (including nurses) to receive an additional pay rise of 2 per cent for 2022-23, on top of the 4 per cent increase awarded by the Government through the Independent Pay Review Body process.
A "Backlog Bonus" of at least £1,250 will also be paid in recognition of the dedication and efforts of NHS staff during the pandemic and their role in cutting waiting lists. The level of bonus will be determined by pay band and experience, so for example, the average nurse in pay band 5, will receive £1,350.
For 2023-24, the Government offered NHS staff a 5 per cent consolidated increase in pay, worth at least £1,065. Alongside this, the Government will introduce measures to ensure safer staffing in hospitals, make the pension abatement rules introduced during the pandemic permanent and identify ways to tackle violence against NHS staff.
The Government has also provided a commitment to the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) to address specific challenges around recruitment, retention and professional development in nursing, and will also consider a separate pay spine exclusively for nursing staff in 2024-25.
I firmly believe that this agreement represents a fair and reasonable offer for NHS staff, as well as being a fair deal for taxpayers. The NHS Staff Council – which includes unions and NHS employers – voted to accept this pay deal. The Government ensured that the deal was implemented so that more than a million workers across the NHS (including nurses) could receive this extra pay from June 2023.
I note concerns about the Government's proposals around minimum service levels for hospitals during industrial action. However, the last 12 months have seen significant disruption to patient care from industrial action, with more than 1 million appointments being rescheduled since December 2022.
The Government's proposals would require hospitals to provide the same level of care for patients requiring urgent or emergency treatment during a period of industrial action as on a non-strike day. For further context, this would mean that patients requiring urgent cancer treatment, requiring dialysis, or patients requiring a transplant where a potential donor match is identified can receive the treatment they need without being delayed by industrial action.
The Department of Health and Social Care recently concluded a consultation on these measures, inviting views from patients, trade unions and other stakeholders. The Department is currently evaluating the responses to the consultation, and will publish next steps in due course.
My colleague Steve Barclay, the former Health Secretary, brought forward legal action to prevent strike action by the RCN on 2 May 2023. This is because this date fell outside of the Union’s mandate for strike action and was therefore illegal. A hearing took place at the High Court on 27 April, with Mr Justice Linden finding in favour of the Government. It is important to note that Mr Justice Linden also said that the RCN would be able to ballot its members to receive another strike mandate, should it wish to do so.
As NHS Employers, the employers organisation for the NHS, stated in response at the time: "The RCN could and should have resolved this significant issue of the legality of its strike sooner… the NHS Employers approached the RCN to query whether its mandate for strike action expired at midnight on 1 May 2023 and not the 2 May as they had appeared to suggest. The RCN vigorously rejected our assertion and we were left with no choice but to ask the Secretary of State to seek the view of the courts. Clarity has now been achieved, not least for RCN members, and the Judge has confirmed the position we set out last week: any strike action occurring on 2 May would be illegal."
Thank you for taking the time to contact me.