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It’s time to halt NHS staff exodus with game-changing pay rise, say health unions

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Many are actively seeking alternative employment and others are seriously considering a job move.

The mounting NHS staffing crisis and long waiting times will become permanent unless the government brings in a game-changing retention package, with an inflation-busting pay rise at its heart, say health unions today (Monday).

In evidence to the independent NHS pay review body (NHSPRB), the 14 unions – representing 1.2 million health staff in England – are calling on ministers to act urgently with a significant wage boost. They say this would help halt the growing exodus of exhausted staff from the NHS.

The unions warn that without a decent pay rise this year, the NHS will continue to lose staff at alarming rates, with patients suffering the consequences most.

The joint submission urges the government to ensure the 2022 pay rise both cushions health workers from soaring living costs and enables the NHS to hold on to, and attract, the staff so essential for its post-Covid recovery.

Unions are concerned the government has yet to produce a submission and will not meet its own deadline of today for evidence to the NHS pay review body.

The unions accuse ministers of treating the whole process with contempt. They say if the government does fail to meet today’s cut-off date, the pay rise for dedicated porters, nurses, healthcare assistants, midwives, cleaners and other health workers will be further delayed.

The huge number of Omicron-related work absences among health employees in recent weeks has shown the NHS is fragile, say the unions. With 93,000 vacancies across England, and shortages in every specialism, the NHS can ill afford to lose any more staff.

But the union evidence says large numbers of employees have simply had enough. Many are actively seeking alternative employment and others are seriously considering a job move.

As well as an inflation-proofed pay rise, the unions’ emergency retention package calls for earnings of the lowest paid workers to be boosted above real living wage rates, and for any extra shifts worked to be rewarded fairly. The unions also want to see limits on excessive hours to prevent burnout.

UNISON head of health and chair of the joint health unions Sara Gorton said: “Last year government dithering caused health workers to wait months for a measly pay rise. Ministers mustn’t make the same mistake again.

“An above-inflation increase alone isn’t a magic solution to the NHS’ many problems. But a decent wage boost could be just the trick to persuade many burnt-out staff to stay.

“Time is now of the essence. The government needs to pull its finger out and show it’s prepared to act quickly to hold on to experienced health workers, protect the NHS and cut waiting times.

“If direct pay talks with government can deliver a speedier pay outcome, then unions could get around the negotiating table instantly.”

Royal College of Nursing director of employment relations and legal services Joanne Galbraith-Marten said: “Ministers repeatedly inflicted real-terms pay cuts on NHS staff and, this year, the spiralling cost of living puts them under even greater strain.

“Exhausted and demoralised staff need to know the government is on their side – not to hear that it is stalling again on NHS pay.

“To prevent an exodus from the health service, with untold consequences for patients, ministers must quickly rise to the challenge.”

Royal College of Midwives executive director for external affairs Jon Skewes said: “It’s high time the government gave our NHS workers the respect they deserve. Let’s hope they don’t fail to meet their own deadline again today, as this will further erode the little morale that’s left among NHS staff.

“Every part of the NHS is severely suffering with recruitment and retention issues. Staff are leaving in their droves. They’ve had enough and a fair and decent pay rise may well prevent those who are considering leaving to stay.”

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