UK nurses’ pay rise demand ‘remarkably high’, says minister amid looming strike


The 17.6% pay rise understood to be demanded by nurses who have voted to strike has been described as “remarkably high” by a cabinet minister, who admitted the expected action this winter would “completely disrupt” the NHS.

Chris Heaton-Harris, the Northern Ireland secretary, said it was “difficult to judge” whether nurses were currently paid enough and that while it was not his “area of expertise”, he believed their job was “a vocation”.

He said that nurses had a starting salary of £27,000 rising to around the mid-£30,000s, and asked: “Is that enough? Who can put a value on care like that?”

The government says the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) is asking for a 17.6% pay boost, which, if applied to all NHS staff apart from doctors and dentists, would cost £9bn.

The RCN believes current NHS services are “not safe” and has accused ministers of failing to heed their concerns.

Heaton-Harris said it was “troubling and very, very sad” nurses were being forced to use food banks and reportedly eating leftover food from patients’ plates.

He told Sky News public sector finances were “not in the best of shapes” but added: “Everything the government is doing across the whole of public sector pay, which is the only pay sector that we can influence, is aiming at the lower-paid and the more vulnerable in society. So we understand that we need to help people a bit more.”

Asked if a 17% pay rise was appropriate, Heaton-Harris told Times Radio it was “remarkably high”.

He said the NHS pay review body had given 1 million NHS workers a pay rise of at least £1,400 this year – equivalent to 4.5% for most nurses.

He added: “I want people in public service to be rewarded appropriately, everybody else does as well. But there’s a much wider economic context as well.”

“Some people wouldn’t want to pay politicians anything,” he noted, before adding it was an “unfair question”.

The nurses’ strike “completely disrupts a huge host of public services that are very, very important to the whole nation”, Heaton-Harris warned.

He said dialogue was “always the best way” and he had often found it helpful to discuss issues with trade unions when he was previously rail minister.

However, the RCN said on Thursday that current NHS services were “not safe”.

Patricia Marquis, the union’s director for England, told BBC Breakfast that ministers had “failed to listen” to what nursing staff have been saying.

She said there were some services that would need to continue during strike action to keep patients safe “and we will agree with employers what those are and which staff should be working”.

She added that employers across most of the UK needed 14 days’ notice of strike action, adding: “What I can say is that we intend to take action certainly before the end of this year.”

Source: The Guardian