Tory minister ‘pleasantly surprised’ by 1% pay rise for NHS staff

Conservative health minister Nadine Dorries said she was “pleasantly surprised” by the 1 per cent pay rise for NHS staff in England which emerged from the Budget.

The proposed pay rise for doctors, nurses and more than a million other health service staff – pushed to the limit during the Covid crisis – has been branded “pitiful” and “the worst kind of insult” by Labour and the health unions.

Asked on BBC Breakfast for her reaction to the news, Ms Dorries said: “I was actually surprised because I knew that we’d frozen public-sector pay, that no-one in the public sector was receiving a pay rise, so I was pleasantly surprised that we were making an offer.”

Questioned on whether people would still be signing up to work for the NHS in light of the proposed rise, the minister said: “I believe nurses are about more than superficial soundbites, I think nurses love their job. They do their job because they love their job.”

She added: “I was a nurse myself … I became a nurse because I loved nursing. I hope that those nurses who love their jobs too will stay in the NHS and stick with us through what is a difficult time.”

The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) revealed its plans for increasing the pay of 1.4 million NHS staff on Thursday. The government has argued that paying any more could lead to trade-offs in other areas of NHS spending – including efforts to recruit more staff to fill shortages.

But health unions have demanded a 12.5 per cent uplift in pay in recognition of the efforts of staff during the coronavirus pandemic, and as a counter to years of austerity that has seen the value of NHS salaries fall in real terms.

Royal College of Nursing’s chief executive Dame Donna Kinnair claimed ministers were “dangerously out of touch with nursing staff, NHS workers and the public” on the pay rise.

Labour’s shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth said an increase of just 1 per cent increase was “the ultimate kick in teeth to our NHS heroes” who have kept the nation safe.

“It’s shocking, it’s disgusting, it’s appalling,” he told the BBC, arguing it would effectively be a “pay cut” given expected levels of inflation.

He added: “It was so cowardly of Rishi Sunak to not announce this in his Budget – to let it sneak out in the small print. He posts pictures of himself clapping for NHS staff, but when it came to it he’s cutting their wages. That’s appalling.”

But despite the chancellor Rishi Sunak spending an extra £65bn on Covid support measures in the Budget, the government appears determined to stick to its pre-Covid spending plan for day-to-day NHS spending.

Defending the spending decisions, Ms Dorries claimed nurses had received a 12 per cent increase in pay over the last three years and said the average nurse’s salary is around £34,000.

“Everybody in an ideal world would love to see nurses paid far more, in an ideal world, but we are coming out of a pandemic where we have seen huge borrowing and costs to the government,” the minister for mental health told Sky News.

The Tory minister also insisted there would be “no cuts” to NHS budgets on frontline services.

Budget documents revealed there is a planned cut of £30bn in day-to-day spending at the Department for Health and Social Care from April of this year, falling from £199.2bn to £169.1bn.

Ms Dorries argued the reduction was related to extra money pumped into to deal with the Covid crisis. “That £30bn, I believe, was a reduction on the pandemic spending – there are actually real-time increases going into the NHS budget year on year.”

She added: “There are absolutely no cuts moving forward to frontline NHS services either in waiting lists, accident and emergency. There are just no cuts moving forward – there are real-time increases going into the NHS budget.”

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