Health service staff were expecting a bigger pay rise than the 1% offered by the government, the head of NHS England has said.
Sir Simon Stevens told MPs that previous plans had budgeted for a 2.1% salary increase this year.
The government’s proposal for a 1% rise has sparked a backlash, particularly given the fact that the NHS is on the frontline of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Speaking to the Commons Health and Social Care Select Committee, Sir Simon said proper recognition for health service staff after a year battling the virus was “entirely right”.
He said the independent pay review body should be allowed to do its job without “fear or favour”.
“At the time that we published the Long-Term Plan, and then shortly thereafter in 2019, we laid out the underpinning financial assumptions,” Sir Simon told the committee.
“Obviously that was approaching two years ago, so things have changed, but 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 together with the overhang from the 2021 elements of the Agenda for Change pay deal.
“Ultimately in a publicly funded, democratically accountable health service, the government of the day gets to decide what NHS pay should be, but you would expect the head of the health service to want to see properly rewarded NHS staff, particularly given everything that the service has been through – they have been through – over the course of the last year.
“And so I think the right way to resolve this is the path the government has actually set out which is to ask the independent pay review bodies to look at all of the evidence… and be able to independently make a fair recommendation so that NHS staff get the pay and reward that they deserve.”
He added: “Ultimately, of course, government gets to decide whether to accept those recommendations but we are in the review process where the review body needs to be able to do its work without fear or favour and then put forward that recommendation and its justification for so doing.”
“I agree with you that coming out of the past year and everything that NHS staff have been through, proper recognition for that is entirely right,” Sir Simon said when asked by Labour MP Barbara Keeley whether a bonus for NHS staff had been considered.
“And that goes with the grain of what the public want to see, none of which is to ignore the broader economic context facing the country.
“As the head of the NHS, I’m wanting to make sure that staff get proper reward and not only support through that mechanism, but also fundamentally what staff want to see are a broader range of measures including further increases in the workforce to deal with some of the intense workforce pressures.”
Reacting to the comments, Labour’s shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth 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.”
Quizzed about the issue at the weekend, Boris Johnson said: “What we have done is try to give them as much as we can at the present time.”
“The independent pay review body will obviously look at what we’ve proposed and come back,” the prime minister continued.
“Don’t forget that there has been a public sector pay freeze, we’re in pretty tough times.
“We’ve tried to give the NHS as much as we possibly can and that means, in addition to the £140bn of annual money, we’ve got another £62bn we’ve found to help support the NHS throughout the crisis.”