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Monday, January 11, 1999 Published at 13:52 GMT


Nurses must get fair pay deal - Chancellor

Chancellor Gordon Brown claims the government is helping nurses

Nurses deserve a "fair deal" on pay and working practices, Chancellor Gordon Brown has stressed.

NHS in crisis
However, Mr Brown did not rule out a staged pay rise, and gave no clues about the amount of money nursing staff could expect to be awarded.

The nurses' and midwives' independent pay review body is due to make its recommendations on nurses' pay to the government before the end of the month.

The shortage of nurses has been blamed for the health service's inability to cope with the upsurge in demand brought about by the current flu outbreak.

The Royal College of Nursing estimates there are now 13,000 full-time registered nurse vacancies in the UK.

Speaking in Edinburgh on Monday, Mr Brown said: "We recognise the contribution of nurses.

"Let me make it clear that our evidence to the pay review bodies suggests the need for pay reform to make sure that nurses have modern, fair and flexible employment within the health service.

"Specifically, we have called for the review body to take into account the special circumstances of nurses, particularly nurses starting out in the NHS.

The government says it is creating 15,000 extra nurse training places in the next three years.

Pay rise is crucial

[ image: Christine Hancock says a significant pay rise for nurses is essential]
Christine Hancock says a significant pay rise for nurses is essential
Christine Hancock, the Royal College of Nursing's general secretary, welcomed the Chancellor's comments, but stressed that they referred "mostly to medium-term objectives".

"We have to have a substantial pay award this year or there won't be enough nurses in the NHS to benefit from modern, fair and flexible employment."

Ms Hancock said the immigration rules should be relaxed as a short-term measure to allow foreign nurses in this country to work in the NHS.

"There are Australian, American and New Zealand nurses working in bars because they are not allowed under immigration rules to work in our hospitals," she said.

Head of Health for the public service union Unison Bob Abberley said: "We couldn't agree more with the Chancellor's sentiments but we also need a new pay system to ensure that fair pay is delivered in the future for nurses and other health staff."

Tim Jones of the NHS Confederation, which represents health managers, said it was calling for a gradual above inflation pay increase over the next three to four years.

It is worried that a large increase will eat into the extra £21bn set aside for the NHS as a result of the comprehensive spending review.

Mr Jones said a pay rise of around 5% - the increase Health Secretary Frank Dobson is said to be considering - would certainly impact on modernisation programmes, including information technology and waiting list initiatives and preparations for primary care groups.

"The pay rise has to be implemented steadily or it will undermine the government's modernisation project," he said.

Budget surplus

However, City forecasters have predicted that the government could find extra money for the pay rise since it is predicted to be heading towards a budget surplus of up to £10bn.

A Treasury spokesman said: "The government has yet to receive the relevant pay review body reports. It will want to study these before making any announcements on nurses' pay."

But Dr Evan Harris, Liberal Democrat spokesman on health said the Mr Brown's comments would not encourage people to enter nursing.

He said: "While Gordon Brown says that nurses deserve a fair deal, they did not receive one last year.

"Instead, after criticising previous governments for staging pay awards for nurses, this government did exactly the same thing and we are now reaping the consequences with the shortage of nurses."

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