The government has been accused of “snatching away” a previously suggested pay rise of 2.1% for NHS workers, as four major unions expressed their dismay at the 1% increase on offer.
NHS Providers, which represents NHS trusts in England, said a long-term plan set out years ago by the government had assumed a pay rise of more than 2% for healthcare workers in 2021/22.
The proposed pay rise for this year has been set at 1%, prompting anger from unions and opposition MPs.
As tensions have risen, the Royal College of Nursing has set up a £35m industrial action fund – threatening to take strike action – while another union has urged the public to support a slow hand clap next week mocking the proposals.
Deputy chief executive of NHS Providers Saffron Cordery said: “It is very disappointing that the government has said that a 1% pay rise is all that is affordable when they know that the assumption was that the 2021/22 NHS pay rise would be 2.1% – and that this was covered by the NHS revenue settlement announced by Theresa May in June 2018.
“This settlement was then enshrined in a formal act of parliament, the NHS Funding Act 2020.”
She acknowledged the long-term plan had been made before the pandemic but said the last 12 months had only “strengthened the case for a larger pay rise for NHS staff”.
“Some will think that the government is snatching planned pay rises from the pockets of deserving NHS staff so they don’t have to fund the extra costs of COVID-19, which the chancellor personally committed he would meet,” she added.
The government has argued more than one million NHS staff are already benefiting from multi-year pay deals agreed with unions which had delivered a pay rise of over 12% for newly-qualified nurses and will increase junior doctors’ pay scales by 8.2%.
“Pay rises in the rest of the public sector will be paused this year due to the challenging economic environment, but we will continue to provide pay rises for NHS workers, on top of a £513m investment in professional development and increased recruitment,” a government spokesperson said.
Speaking at a news conference on Friday evening, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said NHS staff had been “carved out” of a pay freeze affecting other public sector employees, adding affordability had to be taken into account when deciding pay.
“We have set out what is affordable given the very significant challenges in public finances,” he said, referring to the impact of the pandemic.
An open letter has been sent to the chancellor from the BMA, the Royal College of Nursing, the Royal College of Midwives and UNISON, asking him to reconsider the 1% pay offer.
In the letter, the unions said: “The proposal of a 1% pay offer, not announced from the despatch box but smuggled out quietly in the days afterwards, fails the test of both honesty and fails to provide staff who have been on the very frontline of the pandemic the fair pay deal they need.
“Our members are the doctors, nurses, midwives, porters, healthcare assistants and more, already exhausted and distressed, who are also expected to go on caring for the millions of patients on waiting lists, coping with a huge backlog of treatment as well as caring for those with COVID-19.”
The government’s plans have also been criticised by Labour, with leader Sir Keir Starmer saying the NHS “COVID heroes” deserve more.
Shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth said: “It’s now clear beyond doubt that Rishi Sunak has snatched away the pay rise staff were promised by ministers in the NHS long-term funding plan.
“Not only is Rishi Sunak cutting the pay of hardworking nurses, he’s broken his promise to give the NHS whatever it needed to get through COVID.”