The NHS risks an “exodus” of nurses after the pandemic abates if Rishi Sunak fails to offer a decent pay rise to staff, union bosses have warned.
Nursing leaders said staff are “exhausted and morale is on the floor” after nearly a year of gruelling shifts battling coronavirus.
The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) urged the Chancellor to use next week’s Budget to boost central NHS funding for the explicit purpose of increasing staff pay levels – or risk staff shortages which could hit patient care.
NHS workers were spared from the wider public sector pay freeze last year – but senior nurses will take home less than £10 extra per week if Mr Sunak replicates recent pay awards, according to the Royal College of Nursing.
The RCN said the salary for experienced nursing staff of £30,615 in 2020-21 would increase to £31,380 under a 2.5% pay award in 2021-22, raising weekly take-home pay by an estimated £9 from £426 to £435.
Pay of experienced nurses had fallen by 15.3% in real terms over the past 10 years, it said.
RCN General Secretary Dame Donna Kinnair said: “An experienced nurse, who might have worked ten or twenty years in the NHS, deserves more than a few extra pounds per week after this brutal year.
“They are already worse off than ten years ago, contrary to claims from the Prime Minister and others.
“Nursing staff are exhausted and morale is on the floor – too many are telling me they fear an exodus of their colleagues once the pandemic pressure truly abates.”
More than a third (36%) of RCN members were considering quitting the profession, with many citing pay as the key factor, a survey found last year.
The proportion of older nurses has also increased in the past five years – with 17.3% aged 56 or over in 2015, compared to 20.8% in 2020.
A pay rise of 12.5% this year for nursing and other NHS staff would increase the NHS wage bill in England by £4.25 billion, it said in a submission to the Treasury.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock has previously said that NHS workers will have to wait for the independent pay review board to report back later this year.
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesman said: “Our dedicated NHS staff have worked tirelessly every day of this Covid-19 pandemic, and they will rightly be exempt from the temporary pause on pay rises for public sector workers.
“Over one million NHS staff are currently benefiting from multi-year pay deals, agreed with trade unions, which has delivered a pay rise of over 12% for newly qualified nurses.
“We continue to listen to our valued staff and trade unions to ensure everyone is rewarded fairly and, when we receive them, we will consider the recommendations of the independent NHS Pay Review Body.”