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Friday, October 9, 1998 Published at 20:10 GMT 21:10 UK


Novice nurses to get more pay

Nurses claim low pay has damaged morale

The UK Government says it wants to boost the starting rate of pay for nurses - but it has also warned that the National Health Service must be able to afford any increase.

The comments were made in a submission to the nurses pay review body but did not put a figure on the rise.

Earlier, the government denied a report that it aimed to limit any pay rise to 2.5%, in line with inflation.

The BBC's Fergus Walsh: Action is needed to aid recruitment crisis
Health Minister Alan Milburn refuted press reports that the Department of Health had recommended only an inflation-linked rise. He also rejected criticism that the government was reneging on its promise to give nurses a fair deal.

He insisted ministers were pushing the independent review body to recommend a significant pay rise for nurses starting out in the profession.

Two national newspapers reported on Friday that in its evidence to the independent pay review body, the government was to recommend that nurses should not get a pay rise above ministers' inflation target of 2.5%.

Alan Milburn defends the government's position
But Mr Milburn told the BBC that, while the government's evidence to the review body stressed the need to take into account inflation targets, it did not recommend a specific figure for nurses' pay.

Mr Milburn said: "The evidence we are submitting to the independent pay review body does not quote any figure, indeed no government has ever done that - that is a job for the independent pay review body.

"What we do say is that the government wants to see a fair pay rise for all nurses that is affordable to the NHS."

Better pay for juniors

[ image: Alan Milburn: wants better starting pay for nurses]
Alan Milburn: wants better starting pay for nurses
Mr Milburn said the government was particularly keen for a rise in the starting rate of pay for nurses.

He said: "It is obviously important that people who are contemplating a career in nursing, or those, for example, that are considering returning, see that the rate of pay is sufficient to allow them to live lives comfortably.

"If we are going to do that, and we are going to be able to end the staging of pay awards, the review body needs to come up with recommendations that allow the NHS to live within its means."

Last year, ministers sparked anger among nurses by implementing the pay review body award in two stages, with the end result that the overall increase in pay was below inflation.

Bob Aberley calls for fair treatment for nurses
Currently there are 8,000 nursing vacancies in the NHS, and latest figures showed the number of new recruits to the profession has fallen by 15% over the last four years.

The government has pledged action to boost nurse recruitment, including the creation of nurse consultants in the NHS.

But nurses' leaders have warned that the only way to improve morale and to encourage new recruits into nursing is to boost low pay levels.

A qualified nurse earns £12,635 after three years' training. The average pay for nurses is £19,115.


[ image: Christine Hancock: 'quality nurses reduce costs']
Christine Hancock: 'quality nurses reduce costs'
Christine Hancock, general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, said any attempt to avoid giving nurses a significant pay rise would backfire.

Not only would morale dip even further, but ultimately NHS costs would increase as well.

Investing in quality staff cut costs, Ms Hancock argued, because expert care reduced the length of hospital stays, the need for drug treatments and the risk of complications.

She said: "The government wants to see so many good things happen in the health service, which nurses also want to see.

"They want to see waiting lists come down, they want to see seriously mentally ill people better cared for, they want to be able to provide care particularly for elderly people in their own homes so they do not have to go to hospital unless they really need to.

"But nurses cannot care for patients with the number of vacancies there are at the moment."

Ms Hancock said nurses must have confidence in the pay review body to act in their best interests.

Bob Aberley, head of the head group for the Unison trade union, said: "Nurses are leaving the NHS hand over fist and pay is a major factor in them doing that."

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