Austerity and the NHS


  • Univadis Editorial - Dr Harry Brown
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There has been a huge amount of comment both discussed and published following the recent election result. One of the reasons put forwards as part explanation for some of the voting trends witnessed, is the long-term impact of austerity measures. I am sure that many people understand the need for tight control of the public purse but there are also many people who have had enough of austerity. Apart from the election result, there are also signs that resistance to ongoing austerity measures is rising within the health service.

According to a recently published Univadis medical news article, Unions urge removal of NHS pay cap “Health unions have issued a letter to the prime minister in a bid to scrap the 1% cap on pay rises for NHS employees.” The letter to the prime minister, according to the Univadis article, was signed by 15 unions and included the British Medical Association and the Royal College of Nursing. The Univadis article goes on remind us that “The cap, introduced in 2010 and legislated to continue until 2020, limits NHS staff to 1% pay increases or below.” I wonder how many readers who work for the NHS realise that this pay cap still has significant time to run. The big issue here is how long healthcare staff will continue to accept this? Especially those people who are on the lower pay scales.

With rising workloads, staff and skill shortages and continued downward pressures on salaries, you start to wonder how long it will take for NHS staff to become more militant and less accepting of their pay and working conditions.

It looks like politicians are becoming more aware of this potential rising discontent, especially since the new administration is a government that does not have a strong electoral mandate. A recent article in the Guardian website, Jeremy Hunt hints at lifting of nurses' pay cap stated that “The health secretary signalled that the government might scrap its current policy, which is to limit nurses to 1% salary increases every year until 2020.” It may happen that other workers could be included in this possible change in policy.

However small increases in salary to large numbers of staff can cost a lot of money and I suspect not everyone would get an increase. In addition, the pressures within the health service are constantly rising and it not just related to salary demands. Ever increasing workloads coupled with rising public and political expectations could lead to higher stress levels and higher levels of dissatisfaction for many healthcare staff. This potent mix may result in discontent spreading even wider and not just being confined to the health service. Although we are currently enjoying the weather of a lovely summer, winter is not that far away and all it takes is a moderate flu epidemic which could result in a critical tipping point for the NHS. The goodwill of the staff will not last forever and I hope a compromise can be reached which is satisfactory to all parties.

 

Harry

Dr Harry Brown, editor-in-chief Univadis