Work will now begin on implementing the non-pay elements of the NHS pay deal for England, the government has announced, including looking at ways to “improve nursing career progression”.
The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said it would work with the NHS Staff Council, NHS England and NHS Employers to bring forward the commitments.
Health and social care secretary Steve Barclay kickstarted the work today with an open letter to staff on the Agenda for Change pay scheme who are covered by the deal.
In it, Mr Barclay said: “As well as increasing pay, the government is determined to protect your wellbeing and support your development.
“You provide high-quality, compassionate and safe care to patients around the clock, and we are committed to supporting you while investing in the NHS workforce as a whole.
“That is why we are pushing ahead with the commitments made as part of that deal.”
One of these commitments will see the DHSC “work jointly with the NHS Staff Council to look for ways to improve nursing career progression”, said the letter.
The letter made no mention of the controversial proposal to look at introducing a separate pay spine for nurses which was secured by the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) during pay negotiations.
The separate pay spine idea is opposed by other unions and was rejected by RCN members themselves when they voted against the NHS pay deal.
However, the RCN told Nursing Times this afternoon that it was still expecting to go ahead with the pay spine project.
Meanwhile, another commitment in the pay deal was around “ensuring that the pay-setting process and the NHS Pay Review Body (PRB) operate effectively”.
Mr Barclay said he had today put this work into action by asking those who participate in the PRB process – including health unions, NHS Employers, NHS Providers, NHS England and the devolved administrations – to share their views on the current process and what they want to change.
It comes after members of both RCN and Unison recently expressed their support for moving away from the PRB process, during debates at their respective member conferences.
Other proposals that will be brought forward from the pay deal include a review of safe staffing guidance, improving support for newly registered health staff, tackling agency spend, pay protection for existing NHS staff who take on a health apprenticeship, and identifying ways to reduce violence against NHS staff.
Mr Barclay’s letter comes as NHS staff in England started seeing the pay rises from the deal in their pay packets this month.
For nurses, the deal provides a 5% permanent pay rise and a one-off payment of between £1,891-£3,789.
However, concerns have been aired about some nurses missing out on the pay deal, such as general practice and public health nurses who are not directly employed by the NHS.
Commenting on letter from Mr Barclay, Unison general secretary Christina McAnea welcomed the work to review the PRB process.
She said: “Without fundamental change, the government risks sleepwalking into a disastrous repeat of the shambolic way ministers handled the two most recent pay rounds.
“The pay review body belongs to a different time. It exists in a vacuum, and that no longer works. A more relevant, modern approach to setting pay in the NHS is long overdue.”
Ms McAnea highlighted the situation in Northern Ireland – where a new pay deal has not been achieved for nurses – as an example of why the current PRB process, which is supposed to be UK wide, is not working.
Unison is instead calling for a collective bargaining approach, in which unions, employers and the government negotiate directly about pay rises for NHS staff – like the process that took place this year in response to strikes by nurses and other health professionals.
“It’s time to hit reset, ditch the review body and agree to annual pay talks. That’s the best solution for the NHS, its staff and patients,” she urged.