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Pay cap on NHS staff must be lifted, says NHS Providers

Staff leaving to stack shelves, as burden too great

Jo Carlowe

Monday, 08 May 2017

The pay cap on NHS staff must be lifted, according to experts.

NHS Providers, the body which represents NHS trusts in England, says that despite the “longest and deepest financial squeeze in NHS history”, the NHS faces “growing workforce problems”, resulting in NHS services having to close unnecessarily, with the timelines and quality of patient care adversely affected and the burden on NHS staff becoming unsupportable.

Chris Hopson, chief executive of NHS Providers said: “Workforce concerns are now the number one NHS priority.” He warned staff were leaving to “stack shelves” rather than continue in the NHS. 

“Years of pay restraint and stressful working conditions are taking their toll. Pay is becoming uncompetitive. Significant numbers of trusts say lower paid staff are leaving to stack shelves in supermarkets rather than carry on working in the NHS. And we are getting consistent reports of retention problems because of working pressures in the health service causing stress and burnout.”

In its seven-point policy paper, Investing in success - NHS priorities for the new government, NHS providers says politicians must address rapidly growing concerns over the NHS workforce in the general election campaign. A combination of pay restraint, the impact of Brexit and the absence of a robust long-term NHS workforce strategy are taking their toll. 

The document says demand for services is rising and patients' needs are becoming more complex. The gap between the demand for and supply of suitably trained NHS staff is growing.

NHS Providers calls on whichever party is in government to work with NHS national bodies to agree and fund a long-term approach to workforce planning and to consider when and how to end pay restraint.

The paper also calls for: 

  • Funding which allows trusts to deliver the standards expected by patients and enshrined in law in the NHS Constitution
  • Investment in social care: ensuring the extra money in the budget is used to ease pressure on the NHS, alongside a sustainable long-term funding solution
  • Action to ensure words promising parity for mental health are matched by deeds. “That means higher levels of investment.”
  • Support for new ways of working and closer collaboration between health and social care so more people can be treated and supported closer to home. “The priority must be quality of care rather than saving money.”
  • Establish the long-term funding needs of the NHS to ensure it can meet the increasing demands of an ageing population.
  • Recognise the economic value of the NHS as an organisation that provides employment, promotes research and ensures the UK life sciences sector is globally competitive.

Chief executive Chris Hopson said: “Growing problems of recruitment and retention are making it harder for trusts to ensure patient safety. Unsustainable staffing gaps are quickly opening up in hospitals, mental health and community trusts and ambulance services.”

He added: “At the same time, trusts are reporting that the uncertainty surrounding Brexit, and the failure to reassure EU nationals about their long-term future, mean that vital recruitment from EU countries is dropping rapidly.

“Yet all the evidence shows that staff who are happy and motivated provide better care.

“NHS trusts want to see strategic solutions in place dealing with pay, the supply and demand of staff, retention and training. But they tell us they see no sustainable long-term plans in place.”

The report highlights NHS workforce shortages including insufficient mental health nurses, A&E consultants, paramedics, and community nurses — leading to delays in treatment, and greater risks to patient safety.

Janet Davies, chief executive and general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, responding to the report, said: “The government cannot ignore this warning from hospital bosses – poor pay for NHS staff damages patient care.

“If it now pays more to stack supermarket shelves than work on the wards, Ministers should hang their heads in shame.

“Years of real-terms pay cuts have left nurses heading for the door. They should not have to fund the NHS deficit from their own pay packets. After the election, for the sake of patient safety, the government must scrap the pay cap and help to fill the tens of thousands of vacant nursing jobs.”

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