A section of the 5,000-strong march through Nottingham on September 23 demanding no cuts in the NHS
A section of the 5,000-strong march through Nottingham on September 23 demanding no cuts in the NHS

Nurses are the worst paid professional group working in the public sector, according to new evidence from the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) released yesterday, Tuesday 21st November, 2006.

The RCN is calling for nurses to be given a morale-boosting pay award in 2007 to help bridge the current pay gap with police officers and teachers.

The RCN released its evidence on nurses’ pay on the same day that staff-side unions representing 750,000 NHS workers gave their oral evidence to the independent Nursing and Other Health Professionals Review Body (NOHPRB), which sets nurses’ pay.

In its written submission to the pay review body, the RCN provides evidence of how nurses’ pay compares unfavourably with other public sector workers, including teachers and police officers.

It cites data from the 2006 Labour Force Survey which show that nurses and midwives in the public sector earn 20 per cent less than primary teachers and 24 per cent less than secondary teachers.

Nurses and midwives in managerial roles also earn significantly less than teachers and police officers without management responsibilities: 24 per cent less than primary teachers; 27 per cent less than secondary teachers and 14 per cent less than police officers.

RCN General Secretary Dr Beverly Malone said: ‘There is no excuse for paying nurses so much less than other public servants.

‘I am also concerned this pay gap is a sign of how the female dominated profession of nursing is valued less than the more male dominated profession of policing.

‘This difference in earnings is bound to feel unfair to nurses who have worked flat out to lead improvements in the NHS.

‘When added to the impact of current financial pressures, job freezes and the relentless pace of the NHS reforms, increasing low morale among nurses is unsurprising.

‘This is not the time for the government to restrict the pay award to 1.5 per cent.

‘In real terms, the government’s suggestion of a limit of 1.5 per cent would amount to a pay cut of 2.1 per cent for nurses at a time when prices for travel, rent and mortgage costs are rising.

‘That’s why the RCN is calling on the review body to consider the long term impact of all of the factors currently affecting morale and to recommend an award which is significantly above inflation.’

The RCN’s evidence highlights the worrying fall in morale in a climate of jobs uncertainty and financial deficits.

In the UK Labour Market Review 2005/6, which forms part of the RCN’s evidence, Professor Jim Buchan warns the health service is moving from a period of growth to a time of potential shortages because of financial constraints, restrictions on overseas recruitment and the ageing of the nursing labour force.

The RCN’s submission also identifies a high number of nurses forced to take second jobs to make ends meet. Independent research carried out on behalf of the RCN in August found 68 per cent of nurses surveyed online saying they had taken on temporary work to supplement their incomes.

The RCN evidence for the NOHPRB comprises findings from four separately commissioned pieces of research.

The first is a postal survey of 4,500 members, which achieved a 55 per cent response rate, commissioned by the RCN to evaluate the impact of Agenda for Change.

The RCN commissioned Employment Relations, an independent research consultancy to carry out an online survey of nurses who do temporary work either through a bank, agency or NHS Professionals. The findings are based on 530 responses.

Also included is a secondary analysis of the Labour Force Survey (January – March 2006) which looks at the pay and working hours of nurses and midwives in comparison with other public sector professions/occupations.

According to the Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings 2005 (ASHE), median pay per week for a nurse is £429.20.

Median weekly earnings for a secondary school teacher is £598.60 and £652.70 for a police officer.

Finally is the Labour Market Review, in which Professor Jim Buchan provides the labour market context for the current pay round.

The Review Body will consider oral evidence in addition to written submissions in November and December before making recommendations to the Prime Minister and Health Ministers for Scotland and Wales.

An announcement of the pay award is expected early next year.

Examples of rising costs this year:

Council Tax – Halifax calculates that the average council tax bill in Great Britain has increased by 121 per cent since its introduction in April 1993.

The average council tax per dwelling (exclusive of discounts and subsidies) is above £1,000 in England for the first time in 2005-06 at £1,009, an increase of 121 per cent since 1993-94 (£456).

In Scotland the average council tax bill per dwelling in 2005/06 is £925, 101 per cent higher than in 1993/94 (£461).

In Wales the average council tax bill is £790, 186 per cent higher than in 1993-94 (£276).

Rents – The most recent publicly available data for England on housing rents for 2004/05 showed increases of 3.2 per cent, 3.0 per cent and 3.4 per cent over the previous year for private, housing association and local authorities, respectively.

(Source: Department for Communities and Local Government, Housing Postcard June 2006, updated July 2006).

Travel – The AA Motoring Trust ‘Fuel Price Report’ (August 2006) reported UK average unleaded prices rising 0.7p from the previous month to 98.2p per litre, compared to 91p in August 2005, a 7.9 per cent increase.

Underground and bus fares in London have increased significantly.

The weekly bus pass rises by 3.7 per cent, to £14 from £13.50, and there will be pro-rata increases on monthly and annual passes. The one day bus pass is frozen at £3.50.

However, the cash fare rises by a third, from £1.50 to £2. On the tube, travelcards are subject to a rise of around RPI+2, although single fares on Oyster are frozen, as are cash fares outside zone 1, the cash fare in Zone 1 rises to £4.

Utilities – According to simplyswitch.com (13 September 2006) domestic customers’ energy bills have increased massively over the last few months.

Since January 2004, bills have gone up by an average of 78 per cent for gas and 51 per cent for electricity.

Interest Rates – In November 2006, interest rates were raised by 0.25 per cent to a five year high of 5 per cent.

Inflation – In the year to August 2006, headline inflation rose to 3.4 per cent, up from 3.3 per cent the previous month.

Underlying inflation rose to 3.3 per cent, up 0.2 per cent and the CPI rate rose to 2.5 per cent, up 0.1 per cent (source: National Statistics, 12 September 2006).