The boss of the NHS in England has said staff deserve a 2.1% pay rise next year and confirmed that ministers had planned to give them that rather than the 1% that has sparked a huge outcry.
Sir Simon Stevens said the salaries of most of the NHS workforce were due to increase by 2.1% from 1 April under the five-year funding deal Theresa May gave the service in 2018.
May’s administration and the NHS budgeted for staff to receive a 2.1% uplift in 2021-22 as part of the big boost to its budget, which she approved to mark the 70th anniversary of its creation.
Critics of Boris Johnson’s decision to offer NHS staff a mere 1% rise seized on Stevens’ intervention on an issue that threatens to trigger a rebellion among Conservative MPs.
His remarks came as a new poll found that 53% of the public think NHS nurses should get at least a 5% pay rise and that 83% – including 78% of Tory voters – think the 1% is too little for NHS staff overall. Savanta ComRes undertook the survey for campaign group 38 Degrees.
NHS England’s chief executive was giving evidence to the Commons health select committee chaired by Jeremy Hunt, who was the health secretary until a few weeks after the unveiling of May’s deal, under which health service funding would have risen by billions every year until 2023.
Hunt reminded Stevens that the 2018 deal, which they helped persuade May to approve, included a 2.1% rise in the forthcoming new financial year.
Stevens said: “At the time we published the long term plan [in January 2019] and then shortly thereafter in 2019 we laid out the underpinning financial assumptions. That was approaching two years ago, so things have changed. But, as you say, at the time the working assumption was that there would be available 2.1% for the costs of the Agenda For Change pay group in 2021-22.”
Agenda For Change is the UK-wide pay structure under which most NHS staff are paid. The 1% offer applies to all personnel apart from GPs, junior doctors and dentists.
Stevens stressed that “the government of the day gets to decide what NHS pay should be”. But, he said: “You would expect me as the head of the health service to obviously want to see properly rewarded NHS staff, particularly given everything that the service has been through, [that] they’ve been through, over the course of the last year.”
The NHS pay review body should independently make a fair recommendation to ministers about how big a rise health workers deserve “so that NHS staff get the pay and the reward that they deserve”, said Stevens. It should do so “without fear or favour”, he said. It is due to report in May.
Johnson defended the 1% offer on Sunday and again on Monday, when he insisted that nurses believed a rise in the number of nurses was more important than a pay increase.
Jonathan Ashworth, the shadow health secretary, said: “The head of the NHS has confirmed what we already knew: the Conservatives have broken their promise to the NHS and are cutting nurses’ pay.”
Dame Donna Kinnair, the general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, said: “The government should be listening to this growing chorus of voices telling them to reconsider the insulting 1% offer. Sir Simon Stevens is right to say that NHS staff should be paid fairly.”