Nurses and health care assistants in the region joined forces this morning to protest against pay conditions.
Scores of NHS staff joined leading MP Nick Brown outside Newcastle’s Freeman Hospital to show their anger at the Government’s failure to honour a 1% pay rise this year.
After three years of pay freezes and pay restraint, Chancellor George Osborne had said that a 1% pay rise across the board was “affordable” from April this year. However, the Government then controversially reneged on this promise.
While some nurses and health care assistants will still get their incremental pay increase, which rewards experience and skills learnt after lengths of service, many will not be entitled to the rise.
The Government has insisted that it can not afford a general pay increase without putting frontline jobs at risk.
Glenn Turp, Royal College of Nursing Northern Region regional director, said: “Nurses are working very hard and the number of people at our protest shows how angry our members are. It is baffling that the Chancellor said the Government could afford a 1% pay rise across the board and then that was reneged on. It makes no sense.
“What the NHS cannot afford to do is continue a policy of treating hard working and loyal staff with contempt, at a time when morale is at an all time low and trusts around the country struggle to retain and recruit enough nurses to maintain safe staffing levels. We see this as being a year long campaign leading up to the general election.”
Nurses, doctors, physiotherapists, paramedics, hospital cleaners and other NHS staff have taken part in demonstrations throughout the country against the coalition’s decision not to accept an independent pay review recommended increase for workers in England.
Newcastle East MP Nick Brown said: “The Government’s continuing public sector pay restraint is not fair and not sustainable. It is particularly unfair on nurses and other low paid workers in the National Health Service.
“I completely support the Royal College of Nursing, hospital staff look after us in our time of need and we must stand up for them. It is important that the public understands just how shabby the Government is in treating key health service workers.”
Staff nurse Grace Onuoha, 53, of Walker, Newcastle, had just finished a night shift for Northumberland, Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust when she attended the protest.
The mum-of-three said: “It is very disappointing that there is not an across the board pay rise as we are working hard and doing a lot yet receiving nothing in return. It feels like we have been given a slap in the face by the Government.
“Morale is extremely low among staff as we are doing more and getting less. My pay is exactly the same as it was in 2009 despite the rise in the cost of living.”
The TUC, representing 14 health unions, said its research showed that health staff in England were “donating” £1.5bn worth of unpaid overtime every year.
Unions said that by 2015/16 NHS staff would have had their pay capped for six years.
Pay was frozen in 2011 and 2012, and limited to 1% last year.
Susan Johnson, 47, of Killingworth, a senior sister in critical care at North Tyneside General Hospital, said: “It is frustrating because we work so hard and my concern is that we will put off future generations from joining the profession as nursing staff struggle with unsociable hours and are not very financially rewarded.
“Morale is at an all time low and the fact that some employees are receiving a 1% rise while others are not fragments teams that need to work together.”
The Department of Health said it was saddened by the health unions’ reaction to reject the pay offer.
A spokesperson said: “NHS staff are our greatest asset.
“That’s why at a time of severe funding restraint we have been clear that they should receive at least 1% additional pay this year and next.
“We cannot afford a general pay rise on top of incremental pay increases of up to 6% without risking frontline jobs and safe staffing levels.
“We are disappointed that the unions rejected our offer to discuss any alternative proposals on pay, within an available budget of nearly £1bn.
“However, our door remains open if they wish to reconsider their position.”