Wednesday 9 April 2008

A Fair Deal for Nurses

Following weeks of wrangling, the Department of Health have announced an agreement with the Royal College of Nursing, Unison and NHS Employers for a three-year pay package for staff working on the NHS Agenda for Change.

The package averages out at an almost 8% pay increase over the three years, including a full acceptance of the 2008-09 NHS pay review body’s recommendation for a 2.75% pay increase for nurses, midwives and other healthcare professionals from April 1 2008, followed by a 2.4% increase in 2009, and a further 2.25% increase in 2010.

While this author welcomes the agreement, it seems incredible that things got to the extent where even the Royal College of Nurses – usually the most placid of bodies – felt forced to ballot their members for a possible strike over the previous pay deal. The previous pay offer, it must be remembered, was to be staggered, effectively reducing the pay increase to 1.9% (unlike nurses in Scotland, whose pay increase was unstaggered). A fair deal for nurses should be an absolute minimum requirement for any Government claiming to be addressing investment issues in the NHS – the nurses really are the Service’s most valuable and cherished resource.

In regards to the pay deal, it appears that he legendary negotiation skills of Alan Johnson have won the day, managing to overcome even the financial hardballers at the Treasury. However, the success of the Health Secretary is unlikely to prove balm to Prime Minister Gordon Brown – not exactly known for being Johnson’s biggest fan.

The Prime Minister’s difficult few weeks are likely to be exacerbated by the strong showing of a possible successor in the light of Labour falling even further back in the polls, and even the Brown’s most loyal lieutenant Ed Balls has reportedly been exploring his own various career trajectories.

With backbench MPs increasingly wondering whether they should have stuck with Tony Blair after all, the only questions are whether Brown can hang on to the next election, or whether a senior figure such as Johnson, Miliband or even Balls, will be prepared to wield the knife.

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