Proper investment in NHS staff is essential for both the UK’s economic success, and if there's to be any hope of filling record staff vacancies.
This is according to the 14 Agenda for Change (AfC) staff side unions representing more than one million, non-medical health workers in England. A new report, ‘Supporting UK Economic Growth: The Case for NHS Pay’, compiled on behalf of the unions, makes clear that rebuilding the NHS workforce will be impossible without the fair, sustained wage rises central to recruiting and hanging on to staff.
Furthermore, the report argues that healthcare and economic prosperity are “inextricably linked,” with challenges facing the NHS affecting economic performance, for instance, with poor health leading to reduced productivity, early retirement and a consequent loss of experience from the workforce, and a significant portion of the working-age population unable to work at all.
The unions call for action from the government in the 2024/25 pay round to tackle the wage and staffing issues crucial to cutting the treatment backlog and giving patients the quality care they deserve. NHS staff are due a pay rise from April 1, but the review body is already months behind schedule because the government began the process so late, say the unions.
Above inflation award needed
The report argues that a decent wage increase in this round, backed by a clear strategy on NHS pay recovery, is essential to filling gaping staff shortages, expanding the health workforce and improving economic prosperity. This would mean a greater number of patients could be seen and more work done to prevent health deterioration, allowing the thousands currently off sick and awaiting treatment to return to the labour market and stay fit for work.
The unions - representing ambulance staff, nurses, porters, radiographers, clinical support workers, dietitians, podiatrists, physiotherapists and other NHS employees in England - want the government to tackle the declining value of NHS pay, and ensure health workers are fairly paid for the roles they perform.
They say a funding and pay strategy must be put in place to underpin the much-needed workforce plan. Otherwise understaffing will continue, more health workers will leave, patient care will suffer and waiting lists soar.
Chair of the NHS group of unions and UNISON acting head of health Helga Pile says: “There’s a clear link between rising waiting lists and the staffing emergency being felt in every part of the NHS in England.
“Investing in pay and improving working conditions are the ways to keep experienced employees in their jobs and attract new recruits. In turn that means patients are more likely to get the care they need and get it more quickly.
“But it makes economic sense too. When health workers have more money in their pockets, they tend to spend it on their local high streets, supporting local businesses. And if the NHS had more staff, it would be able to treat a larger number of people. Falling sickness rates would enable the wider workforce to grow and economic benefits to flow across the country."