Health unions announced that they will refuse to submit evidence to the NHS pay review body for the next wage round while the current pay dispute remains unresolved.
The 14 unions – representing more than one million ambulance staff, nurses and other NHS workers in England – have called of Rishi Sunak’s government to engage directly in pay talks.
Unions have accused the government of “hiding behind” the independent pay review body, and believe the lengthy process is not able to deliver a deal to prevent industrial action – including a walkout by ambulance workers on Wednesday.
They said that the deadline for submitting evidence for the 2022/23 pay year was the end of last January, but it was almost six months later when ministers made public their acceptance of the review body’s £1,400 flat-rate rise.
By then inflation had “gone through the roof”, say unions. The unions have now decided against a formal collective submission to the pay review body this year, preferring the more direct approach of talks with ministers.
Evidence for the 2023/24 pay round is meant to be submitted today. Instead, the NHS unions have collated the case for investment in NHS pay into a publicly available document, which outlines the necessity of investment in pay and staffing.
Chairwoman of the NHS group of unions, and Unison’s head of health, Sara Gorton said: “The pay review body process doesn’t fit the current context. The NHS staffing crisis is so acute only prompt action on pay, both for this and the next financial year, can start to turn things around.
She added: “The public knows ambulance response times are worsening and hospital waiting lists growing because the NHS no longer has the necessary staff to meet demand, nor provide safe patient care.”
Secretary of the NHS group of unions, and Chartered Society of Physiotherapy assistant director of employment relations, Elaine Sparkes, said: “Even if the review body process were to be hurried along, as the health secretary says he’s keen to do, it would still take too long.
“Speed is of the essence, as is ensuring wages are high enough for the NHS to retain experienced staff and attract new recruits. Only direct talks can achieve that.”
Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said: “The NHS Pay Review Body (NHSPRB) is long past its sell-by date. It’s no longer independent of Government and it doesn’t have powers to make major decisions about pay. So what is the point of it?
“The fact of the matter is the NHSPRB has presided over more than a decade of real wage cuts for almost all NHS staff. It has been a smokescreen which has allowed Government to drive the NHS to the point of collapse.”
Health secretary Steve Barclay has not ruled out backdating any salary increase in next year’s NHS pay settlement to the start of 2023. He is also thought to be considering whether a one-off hardship payment.
The health secretary told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that he does not “think it is right” to “retrospectively” go back to last April when it comes to reviewing this year’s pay offer to NHS staff.
But Mr Barclay added: “But of course the unions made representations about that, and what the prime minister said at the weekend is nothing is off the table.”
However, chancellor Jeremy Hunt has ruled out both a one-off payment and the idea of backdating the next wages agreement to the start of 2023, according to the Daily Mail.
The 14 NHS unions are: British Association of Occupational Therapists, British Dietetic Association, British Orthoptic Society, Chartered Society of Physiotherapy, Royal College of Podiatry, Federation of Clinical Scientists, GMB, Managers in Partnership, Prison Officers Association, Royal College of Midwives, Royal College of Nursing, Society of Radiographers, Unison and Unite.