The seven-year cap on NHS staff pay – which doctors leaders have accused of having a serious impact on recruitment and morale – has been lifted by the Government.
Health secretary Jeremy Hunt announced that a 1 per cent cap on public sector pay originally imposed in 2010 had been dropped by the Government ahead of next year’s negotiations on pay.
Mr Hunt confirmed in Parliament that the cap had been scrapped, while refusing to be drawn on the details as to how potential future pay rises would be funded.
He further defended the use of the cap, which contributed to a 22 per cent fall in doctors and other health staff’s pay between 2005 and 2015, claiming that it had enabled the NHS to recruit additional staff.
He said: ‘NHS staff do a fantastic job in very tough circumstances, and pay restraint has been very challenging for many of them. However, given the financial pressures it is also true that without it the NHS would not have been able to recruit an additional 30,000 staff since May 2010.
‘Without pay restraint we wouldn’t have 11,300 more doctors in the NHS or 11,300 more nurses in our wards.
‘We recognise [however] that it wasn’t sustainable to carry on with the 1 per cent going forward, and that’s why from next year we’ve been given the leeway for more flexible negotiations.’
BMA council chair Chaand Nagpaul said: ‘There is now widespread acceptance that the pay cap must be scrapped. Doctors’ pay has fallen by more than 22 per cent since 2005, and year-on-year real-terms pay cuts have had a damaging impact on morale, recruitment and retention across the NHS.
‘A recent BMA survey found that two-thirds of hospital doctors and almost half of GPs had vacancies in their departments and practices, and other figures show almost three in four medical specialties have unfilled training posts.
‘With the NHS at breaking point, investing in the NHS workforce and providing fair terms and conditions must be a priority for this Government. Crucially, fair pay needs to be fully funded from additional investment, it cannot be funded from cuts elsewhere in the NHS budget, which would come at the expense of patient care.’
When questioned by Labour MP for Warrington North Helen Jones as to whether future pay increases would come at the expense of cuts to services, Mr Hunt refused to elaborate.
He said: ‘That is something that I can't answer right now because the latitude that the chancellor has given me in terms of negotiating future pay rises is partly linked to productivity improvements.
‘We do have that flexibility and I hope we can get a win, win as a result’.
The health secretary’s comments were tempered, however, by those of NHS Improvement chief executive Jim Mackey speaking on 10 October at a meeting of the health committee.
Mr Mackey made clear to the committee that the NHS was already ‘generating serious levels of efficiency’ and that it was ‘very hard to imagine’ how any future increase could be made without additional funding.
A 1 per cent pay cap for public sector staff in Scotland was lifted last month by the Scottish Government.
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