I declare an interest as a nurse who has worked for over 20 years in the NHS, and who still works as a nurse on my hospital bank. I worked through 2010 to 2015, when the pay freeze and then the pay cap was introduced, so I know exactly how difficult it is to manage on a nurse’s wage and not see an increase. Inflation is now close to 3%, so it is becoming increasingly difficult. Seven years is enough for anyone to have lived with a pay cap or a pay freeze, so I support the RCN’s campaign to scrap the cap.
No political party comes out of this unscathed. There was a recognition among colleagues back in 2010 that we in the public sector had to tighten our belt if we were to protect jobs and frontline services. We recognised that we had to step up to the plate and play our part, and we did. However, we were promised by those on the Government Benches that that would be for roughly a five-year period. The Government have to take responsibility for not having tackled the deficit completely and for keeping the pay cap going. It is not fair on frontline staff that they are the ones still picking up the pieces of the mess the last Labour Government left the country in.
It is time now to scrap the cap. Nursing has changed dramatically over the last 20 years. It is now a graduate-only-entry profession. Nurses are taking more advanced roles, including nurse prescribing, and extended roles, such as biopsies and minor ops. Today is National Sepsis day. In A&E, it is often a nurse who sees a patient and, if they suspect sepsis, cannulates, takes blood, does the blood cultures and, if they have done their prescribing course, starts the first line antibiotics. That is done long before the doctor ever sees the patient. That is not because nurses are becoming mini-doctors; it is because they are extending their role, improving outcomes for patients and improving patient experience.
I want to send a message to Ministers: there are two myths doing the rounds at the moment about nurses’ wages. The first is that nurses are on an average of £43,000 or even £37,000. That is completely untrue. Most nurses are in bands 5 or 6, the average wage for which is £27,000—for an experienced nurse—and the starting salary roughly £21,000. The banding system is used to downgrade nurses and pay them as little as possible. When I do a hospital bank shift, I am on the lowest band 5 wage—after 20 years of working as an experienced cancer nurse who is chemo and intravenous-trained.
The incremental rise we hear about is also a myth. The banding system is used to start nurses on the lowest-possible salary. They have to wait seven years—each year going up a little bit—till they reach the top of their banding. In no other profession would that happen. We do not see MPs in the 2017 intake being paid less than those in the 2015 intake because they are less experienced or new to the role, but that is exactly what we do to nurses, and then we tell them they should be grateful for that incremental rise. They should be paid what is due for that job, not wait seven years to get the actual pay the job is worth. We do not say to the editor of the Evening Standard, “You’ve never been a journalist before, so you should be paid less than any other journalist in this country.”
This is about fair pay for a fair day’s work. We are asking people to save lives or put their own lives on the line to save the lives of others. The time has come to end the public sector pay cap, and I welcome the moves by the Government. As for the motion, I hear that the Labour party wants to scrap the cap, but there is not the money to do it across the board, although there are ways to give nurses, public sector workers and other NHS staff a pay rise. If we focus that pay rise on bands 1 to 7 and help those in high-cost areas with high-cost living allowances, we can make a difference, but using this as a political football will not score any goals. It is incumbent on all of us from all parties to work together.
When Ministers stand up at the Dispatch Box and say, “More schools than ever are good or outstanding”, “More patients are being treated than ever before” or “There is less crime than ever before”, they should remember it is because of the hard work of public sector workers. We need to reward them for their hard work and effort.