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DAUK’s Felix Brewer in The Sunday Times – NHS Pay

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Photo by Roman Kraft on Unsplash

DAUK responded promptly to Robert Colvile’s misinformed opinion piece about NHS pay in The Sunday Times.

Mr Colvile states that on average, pay increased by “2.7 per cent a year” between 2012 to 2017 for NHS workers, due to a “complex system of near-automatic individual salary bump[s] every year”.
What he is referring to is a modest annual pay increase for new staff joining a ‘banded’ job within the NHS (which incidentally, excludes 10% of the workforce, including all 120,000 doctors). It occurs for the first seven years of service in recognition of increasing responsibility-then stops.
The vast majority of NHS staff have over 7 years of service, and do not receive automatic pay enhancements, meaning an experienced nurse will have suffered a relative pay cut of 9% between 2012 to 2017, without even considering the mandatory costs involved in the job.
A 1% “pay rise” is not only insulting in lieu of the sacrifice made by NHS workers, it also does little to reconcile the chasm which has emerged by wages lagging far behind inflation.

Felix Brewer – Surgical Trainee with The Doctors’ Association UK

Read the letter here

Our full response is as follows:

Response to “Welcome to the weird world of NHS pay, where a 1% rise is a lot more than it seems” by Robert Colvile

Dear Editor,

I read with interest the commentary published by Robert Colvile in the March 07 copy of The Times, and would like to respond to number of the claims made.

Firstly, let’s talk about the “pay rise”. Public sector pay is for obvious reasons, an emotive issue. For now, let’s overlook the enormous physical and psychological cost this pandemic has had on healthcare workers, the lives lost and destroyed, and just focus on pay. 

Mr Colvile states that on average, pay went up by “2.7 per cent a year” between 2012 to 2017 for NHS workers, due to a “complex system of near-automatic individual salary bump[s] every year, and the national increase on top”

Let’s look at this in more detail using a hypothetical case study for a nurse working from 2012 to 2017. 

Jeff is a nurse who graduated in 2012 and started working in the NHS. His starting salary as a Band 5 nurse is £21,1761. For now, let’s ignore professional fees, indemnity costs and other mandatory costs required for him to just be able do his job. At the end of his 5th year, he would be earning £25,298, factoring in pay progression and national increases2. That equates to approximately 3.6% pay increase each year. 

So Jeff, a newly qualified nurse, has done relatively well over this time period.

However, this simplified scenario ignores the fact that most NHS workers in their respective pay band will already have reached the maximum pay category (achieved after 8 years of service), and no longer receive automatic pay enhancements. If Jeff, a band 5 nurse with 8 years’ experience started work in 2012 his salary would be £27,625. By 2017, his salary would be £28,462. Relative to inflation, this actually represents a pay cut of just under 9%3.

So in reality, a 1% pay rise is not only insulting in lieu of the sacrifice made by NHS workers, it also does little to reconcile the chasm which has emerged from wages lagging far behind inflation.  

The truth is that the majority of NHS workers do not get annual pay increases. Most staff have seen consecutive pay cuts over the past decade and are now 8-10% worse off than their counterparts in the private sector4

If there really is a “flood of applications” for public sector jobs, it isn’t because of pay or pensions (the latter of which also incidentally took a significant hit with the lifetime allowance freeze announced this week).   

Finally, Mr Colvile states that “every job [in the NHS] is then placed in one of a dozen pay bands”. This is not correct. Over 10% of the workforce, including the 122,000 doctors, are not paid according to this banding system, and instead are paid according to an entirely different set of guidelines (which incidentally also lag far behind inflation). 

  1. https://www.nsft.nhs.uk/About-us/Documents/Pay_Scales_2012_Final270312.pdf
  2. https://www.nhsemployers.org/-/media/Employers/Documents/Pay-and-reward/AfC-pay-bands-from-1-April-2016_FINAL.pdf
  3. https://londoneconomics.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2021/01/LE-NHS-Trade-Unions-Net-Exchequer-impact-of-increasing-AfC-pay-18-01-2021-STC.pdf
  4. https://www.nuffieldtrust.org.uk/resource/chart-of-the-week-nhs-staff-pay-and-the-cost-of-living

Mr Felix Brewer