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 three years. During the pandemic, nurses were on the frontline of caring and treating for patients affected by Covid-19, and we owe every nurse a debt of gratitude for the care they provided. 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.
I am also fully aware that the last few years have 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 a number of different professions, so that NHS staff have greater choice over their working patterns and achieve a better work-life balance. It is important that local NHS bodies follow guidance from organisations like NHS Employers and the NHS Staff Council in this area.
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 recommended 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 these proposals on pay, the Government will also 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.
In addition, I understand the Health Secretary has provided a commitment to the RCN to address specific challenges around recruitment, retention and professional development in nursing. The Government 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. To that end, I am pleased that the NHS Staff Council – which includes unions and NHS employers – has voted to accept this pay deal. The Health Secretary has stated his intention to implement the deal so that more than a million workers across the NHS (including nurses) can get their extra pay from next month.
Ultimately, it is a decision for nurses to decide whether to take industrial action. However, whilst I sympathise with the issues facing the nursing workforce, I regret that members of the RCN still intend to ballot for industrial action in the coming months which I cannot support because of the potential impact on patient care.