NHS staff in England have been offered a pay rise of 1%. The equivalent of £3.50 per week in take home pay for an experienced nurse. Scotland have offered their NHS staff an interim pay rise of 1% while pay negotiations taking place in Summer. In Northern Ireland staff were offered a one off £500 payment in January while the Welsh Government are yet to declare their intentions.
For months the people of the UK clapped for their NHS heroes while some were calling from the outset for NHS staff to be recognised properly with pay increases and better working conditions.
Political leaders across the UK were very visible and outspoken in their praise for NHS staff. Many observers were of the opinion that the pandemic had highlighted the inequalities in the UK while politicians, some of whom contracted Covid-19 and were subsequently nursed back to health gave speeches about how these ‘heroes’ should be rewarded.
At the beginning of the pandemic sentimentality ran rife with gushing praise coming from all sections of political life in the UK while NHS staff and social care staff were left with inadequate PPE and having to work around the clock in circumstances never before witnessed within the health service.
Promises after promises were made but as the most uncynical amongst us knows, promises are made to be broken. Where does that leave the NHS staff today?
Nurses unions are threatening strike action. Historically any strike action has been demonised by serving governments. In the midst of the pandemic it is unthinkable that NHS staff should be placed in a position whereby they have to contemplate taking action to get what the masses of people in the UK considered was a fait accompli in that they would be rewarded with a decent pay rise.
There may be numerous reasons cited in the coming weeks and months as to why the pay rise amounts to just £3.50 per week, the cost of a small chicken in most supermarkets. We saw how out of the blue governments found money so quickly to deal with the pandemic.
Mass vaccination has offered hope for many and there is perception of an easement, a way out, which in ordinary circumstances would mean an easement of pressure on the NHS staff. That is not the case as the Health Minister in Wales said today at his press conference.
Of course health is a devolved issue in Wales and staff here will be hoping that the Welsh Government will look far more kindly on their modest pleas for a pay rise. Vaughan Gething highlighted the fact on Friday March 5th that not only is there an enormous task ahead of the NHS in Wales in dealing with a record number of people waiting for treatment for health problems other than Covid-19 but that the NHS staff have not had a break and it would be wholly unfair to ask them to run faster in order to keep up with that backlog.
Politicians are renowned for playing political football with such contentious issues and running with the hounds is the default setting for most. The backlash if and when it happens, especially if it is strike action, will be an extremely dangerous and emotive football to deal with for any government in the UK. It remains to be seen whether those same people who clapped for their NHS heroes now stand side by side and support them, whatever it takes. Political leaders of the UK will be watching what happens in England with great interest and those on the opposite side of the blue spectrum will be uttering the words many cynics will be familiar with: ‘I told you so’.