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Pay Caps and Inflation Mean Some NHS Staff 'Worked a Year for Free', Says TUC

Hundreds of thousands of NHS workers have lost at least a year's worth of salary over 13 years because their pay has been eroded by inflation, according to an analysis by the TUC.

Nurses, midwives, and physiotherapists were among healthcare staff most affected by pay failing to keep pace with the cost of living, union leaders said.

Public sector workers as a whole were earning £200 a month less in real terms than in 2010, according to the TUC, whose general secretary, Paul Nowak, said: "The Conservatives' decision to hold down public sector pay has made key workers tens of thousands of pounds poorer, and it has fuelled the recruitment and retention crisis blighting our public services."

Mr Nowak called on Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and his Chancellor Jeremy Hunt to "kickstart genuine negotiations with unions" on pay for the current financial year, accusing both of acting as a "roadblock" to finding a resolution.

TUC Looked at Salary Loss in NHS Pay Bands

The analysis identified how many months of salary workers in NHS pay bands 2 to 7 were estimated to have lost between 2010 and 2022. It suggested that those in bands 4, 6, and 7, which include many midwives, nurses, physiotherapists, and radiographers, the real terms loss was equivalent to 14 months' salary spread over the 13 years. 

The TUC included a table that showed the NHS bands, cumulative pay loss, and months' worth of salary loss since 2010. These were:

  • Band 2 (some porters, receptionists, call handlers): £13,828, or 8 months' salary
  • Band 3 (medical secretary, call handler): £18,357, or 10 months' salary
  • Band 4 (nursery nurse, maternity care assistant, speech and language therapy assistant): £30,038, or 14 months' salary
  • Band 5 (community and GP practice nurse, dietitian, physiotherapist): £36,973, or 13 months' salary
  • Band 6 (specialist physiotherapist, specialist radiographer, specialist nurse, community midwife): £47,747, or 14 months' salary
  • Band 7 (midwife higher level, occupational therapist advanced, radiographer advanced): £56,084), or 14 months' salary

'Colleagues Crying on My Shoulder'

Paramedics were excluded from the analysis, but the TUC said that their pay fell in real terms by £2,400 over the last year.

NHS physiotherapist, Davina Lambie, a member of the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy, said: "Every day I have colleagues crying on my shoulder. The people who do this job are lucky if they have a break to go to the toilet and on a daily basis, are unable to give the care that they want to. We cannot do this job unless there is some kind of reward that meets the demands that we are enduring every day, and it's really difficult to look after more and more patients every day in worse conditions. It's just not sustainable."

Mr Nowak said: "Things can’t carry on like this. After a decade of pay suppression, public servants simply cannot afford another real-terms wage hit. Their living standards have been decimated. 

"Instead of ignoring the problem they created, the Government must kickstart genuine pay negotiations with unions. Rishi Sunak and Jeremy Hunt hold the keys to unlocking the current disputes, but so far they have acted as a roadblock to finding fair settlements."

Effects on Retention and Recruitment

The TUC pointed to polling it carried out in October last year which suggested that 1.8 million public sector workers were seriously considering leaving their job. The survey, conducted by YouGov, suggested that 31% of key workers in the health sector had either taken steps to leave or were seriously considering leaving the profession.

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: "We hugely value the work of all NHS staff and have given more than one million workers, including nurses, midwives and physiotherapists, a pay rise of at least £1400 this financial year – on top of a 3% increase the previous year when wider public sector pay was frozen.

"The Health and Social Care Secretary has met with unions to discuss pay, conditions and workload. He wants to continue discussing how we can make the make the NHS a better place to work for all."

Consumer price inflation (CPI) fell for a third month in a row to 10.1% in the year to January, down from 10.5% in December, the Office for National Statistics reported on Wednesday.