Government pay policy shows it is 'in denial' about scale of NHS staffing crisis, warn hospital doctors

HCSA has warned that the government is in a state of denial over the scale of the NHS staffing crisis in England after ministers unveiled a pay award which left low-wage junior doctors as the biggest losers.

Announcing a headline 2.8 percent award for more senior hospital doctors which will not reach the lowest-paid grades, Health Minister Helen Whately said “affordability” was the key concern of government and that the award will “require difficult trade-offs and reprioritisation of spending”.

The award in England matched pay review body the DDRB’s recommendations which advised:

  • A 2.8% rise for Consultants and SAS doctors, and Junior Doctors in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland
  • A 2% rise for Junior Doctors in England
  • A freeze on the value of CEA awards
  • All awards in England will be backdated to April, while the Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland administrations have not yet responded.

In its submission to the DDRB, HCSA called for a 4.1 percent across-the-board rise to begin to tackle the long-term pay erosion following the 2008 financial crisis.

Recent HCSA research among its members paints a picture of a fragile medical workforce which is burnt out, facing the biggest waiting list in NHS history, and fearing a potential second wave of Covid-19.

Many doctors have not been paid for shifts worked or have been kept on emergency rotas for extended periods with no leave.

This and the emotional and psychological stress of dealing with Covid-19 will bring a significant shift in staff behaviour when the pandemic finally ends, HCSA has warned.

HCSA President Dr Claudia Paoloni said: “Pay is just one of the factors which is impacting on hospital doctor retention but it is an important one. We need to keep all the doctors we can, and attract new ones into the profession. If pay is part of the problem then we need higher pay.

“Just as important is the message the government is sending when it presents what amounts to a slight backtracking on years of real-terms pay decline as some sort of generous Covid reward. Doctors, like other health workers, don’t want a Covid reward – healing people is their vocation – they want to be treated respectfully and see a meaningful plan to reverse the long-term decline in wage values in our NHS.

“The reality is that we are losing the battle to retain our most experienced medical staff, and this government appears to be in denial about the growing desire among doctors to reassess their work-life balance in order to survive emotionally and psychologically. With Covid and staff shortages this is only going to intensify.

“This is not about just higher salaries, it is about looking directly at the evidence of a growing staffing crisis and acknowledging that a meaningful correction to place pay closer to its historical value has to be part of the answer, whether to retain current doctors or to attract new ones.

“This year’s pay award is most certainly not the answer – not least because junior doctors in England, including many who will be starting families or looking to set up homes, are again set to fall further behind their colleagues. That simply cannot be right.”