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Monday, 22 April, 2002, 08:11 GMT 09:11 UK
Nurses step up pay demands
RCN general secretary Dr Beverley Malone with nurses at Harrogate Conference Centre
Dr Beverley Malone says the NHS relies on nurses
Nurse leaders have called for part of the extra investment in the health service to be used to fund significant pay rises for their members.

However, health service managers have warned that the reform that ministers want to see will not take place if a large part of the 40bn investment announced by the Chancellor last week is eaten up by pay rises.

Speaking at the Royal College of Nursing annual congress in Harrogate, general secretary Dr Beverley Malone, said nurses were pivotal to the government's ambitious plans for upgrading the NHS.

The NHS is held together by nurses

Dr Beverley Malone
But she said their crucial role must be recognised by improvements in pay, welfare and working conditions.

Dr Malone said negotiations had already begun with the government.

Other public workers

She said nurses should be put on at least an equal footing with police officers and other public servants who earn more.

Following the April pay increase, an experienced Grade E staff nurse earns up to 20,655 a year.

As 9% of the workforce leaves each year, Dr Malone emphasised the need to retain experienced staff in the NHS and not just concentrate on recruitment.

She said: "The NHS is held together by nurses.

"Any effort to really modernise the National Health Service is going to have to revolve around nurses.

"I am very clear that this is nursing's time to stand up and say `Yes, we are the healthiest part of the NHS'."

She added: "They (the government) have put a lot of eggs in one basket, called the NHS basket, and we are happy to bring it home but it is going to require clear investment in nurses.

"We're not talking about nurses who think they should be able to afford to run a Porsce on their NHS salary, nice as that might be.

"We're talking about nurses who think they should be able to afford to pay the everyday bills, like housing and childcare costs, without having to do extra bank or agency shifts."

Meeting targets

Dr Malone said the government had met its election pledges to recruit 20,000 more nurses to the NHS and is promising to employ a further 35,000 by 2008.

"The government has met its targets in recruiting but retaining is the issue," she said.

"I see a great need for emphasis on retaining and keeping the mature nurses right in the NHS."

Dr Malone said one in four nurses is over the age of 50 and considering retirement, while others are simply disillusioned with the profession.

Nurses on duty at Guy's Hospital, London
Labour pledges 35,000 extra nurses by 2008

Nurses need not only greater pay but also flexible working hours, the ability to rejoin the profession after a break to raise a family and flexible shift patterns.

The nurses' campaign is backed by John Austin, a Labour member of the Commons Health Select Committee.

He said: "I do believe that nurses have been underpaid for many, many years.

"There are enormous stresses at the moment, and that is partly due to the levels of remuneration.

"Unless we can recruit and retain skilled staff patient care will suffer."

However, the NHS Confederation, which represents health service managers, has warned against across the board pay increases for NHS staff.

The confederation says that if funds are eaten up on salaries, it will mean less for new hospitals and state-of-the-art equipment.

It says more research into why nurses are leaving the profession is needed.

Public concern

A shortage of nurses is also a concern to the general public, a survey has revealed.

The survey, produced by ICM Research, was published on Sunday to coincide with the opening of the week-long RCN nursing congress.

It revealed patients want to see more nurses on wards and that many people saw current NHS staffing levels as a concern.

Some 86% of patients said they were either very satisfied (38%) or quite satisfied (48%) with the quality of care and advice they had received from a nurse in the past year.

The BBC's Niall Dickson
"Nurses are determined a large chunk should come their way"
See also:

16 Apr 02 | Health
Nurses doubt Labour on NHS
15 Apr 02 | Health
Matrons appointed across NHS
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