NationalWorld recently contacted more than 200 NHS trusts across the country asking if food banks were in place for staff - with multiple found across the country - but it was also discovered that 10 trusts have specifically implemented initiatives to help staff with the cost of living crisis. This includes subsidised meals in hospital canteens, help with mileage costs, one-off payments of £100 to staff, access to a proportion of salary in advance of payday and vouchers to be used in school uniform shops.
Sara Gorton, head of health at union Unison, said that although “those struggling to make ends meet will be grateful for extra help”, the initiatives highlight “precisely why NHS workers need an urgent wage boost”.
Ms Gorton added: “When health workers are reliant on financial help, it’s no wonder more are leaving for better paid and less demanding jobs elsewhere. The government has to put NHS pay right or the workforce crisis will worsen, and patient care will suffer. Many employees feel striking for better pay and staffing is the only option left.”
Which NHS trusts have put cost of living measures in place for staff?
A number of trusts across the country have implemented measures to help staff with the cost of living crisis as food and energy prices soar.
East Lancashire Hospitals Trust has implemented cost of living initiatives such as subsidised meals to ensure staff can get a hot and affordable meal. The trust also has food bank collection points within its buildings which are shared with the local food banks for the wider community.
Leeds Community Healthcare Trust said it is not operating any food pantries for its community teams at present, but “the idea is being explored”. The trust also has a range of ongoing staff health and wellbeing packages in place to support people with issues, including those that may be as a result of the cost of living. Another initiative allows staff to track their earnings as they work and transfer up to a maximum of 35% of their gross pay already earned immediately into their bank account whenever needed. This means that staff can access their pay sooner than the end of the month pay date.
Meanwhile, Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust said: “While we don’t directly operate food banks for staff, as part of the extensive cost of living support that we have in place, we do signpost to a surplus food supermarket as well as food banks across the city.” Staff at the trust can also apply for a £500 hardship grant from its Covid-instigated “employee support fund”. They can do so more than once, depending on their circumstances.
Cornwall Partnership NHS Foundation Trust don’t have food banks for staff, but some of its community hospitals have a “very subtle and locally owned” ‘care and share’ table where people bring and take tins of food when needed. The ‘care and share’ initiative was started by Matron Sue Greenwood for staff at Camborne Redruth Community Hospital. It was something only they were undertaking at a local level for that particular hospital, until it was then also adopted by Helston Community Hospital.
Oxford University Hospitals has also put a number of measures in place to help staff with rising costs. These include a £100 payment to all staff, a £250 contribution to support sustainable transport costs, access to financial advice from a specialist provider and it has also worked with food providers on its hospital sites to offer more affordable hot food options. A spokesperson said: “We are continuing to work with our people to find ways to help mitigate the cost of living crisis for them.”
To support the wider community with the cost of living crisis, the trust has also introduced collection points to support local food banks on all of its hospital sites. The collection points are not for staff, but are to support local food banks which in turn supports the wider community.
University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation Trust has also introduced measures to help staff with food prices. The trust has introduced a 60% discount in its restaurant on hot food, sandwiches and wraps and breakfasts, and discounted food and drink with onsite caterers and suppliers.
Barking, Havering and Redbridge University Hospitals NHS Trust has a dedicated cost of living team which runs a range of initiatives to support staff, including free period products. The trust’s chief executive, Matthew Trainer, provided an update to the Board in November, which included the S.M.I.L.E. charity running stalls later in the month where items being offered to staff for a £2 charity donation will include new and used toys, food and clothes.
In September, Mr Trainer said he was “very conscious of the detrimental impact the economy is having on some of our staff” and that the trust continues “to look for practical ways in which we can support them”. This included increasing the mileage allowance for people who use their car as part of their role and extending the hours of the staff shuttle bus that runs between the two hospitals.
Staff can also now access a proportion of their salary in advance of payday if they need to in order to save them paying high interest rates on payday loans and the trust also distributed donated school uniforms and office wear to staff for free or gave out £30 vouchers to be exchanged at school uniform shops.
Robert Jones and Agnes Hunt Orthopaedic and District Hospital NHS Trust in Shropshire is offering free breakfast and £2 hot meals for staff. The breakfast offer allows staff to choose between a bowl of porridge or two slices of toast with butter. The main meals ‘winter warmer’ deal runs on a four-week rolling menu with two options each day – a meat dish or plant-based alternative.
Nottinghamshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust has set up a cost of living group which looks at ways it can support staff, including offering a financial wellbeing guide and cost of living advice available to colleagues.
‘At a time when the cost of living is soaring, chronic staff shortages in the NHS are just getting worse’
Dr Vivek Trivedi, co-chair of the British Medical Association (BMA) junior doctors committee, said: "The fact that NHS staff, who spend their working lives caring for others, cannot afford to feed themselves and their families is a terrible indictment of this government’s cavalier attitude to the impact its policies have on so many in society.”
He added: “At a time when the cost of living is soaring, chronic staff shortages in the NHS are just getting worse, and the remaining workforce is emotionally and physically scarred from the pandemic, it is simply galling that this government does not see fit to pay NHS staff fairly for their work.”
A government spokesperson said: “We value the hard work of NHS staff and are doing what we can to support them in these challenging times - including by giving over one million NHS workers a pay rise of at least £1,400 this year as recommended by the independent NHS Pay Review Body, on top of 3% last year when pay was frozen in the wider public sector.
“We are directly supporting households in need following the aftershocks on the economy from the pandemic and Putin’s illegal war in Ukraine, including sending another Cost of Living Payment this month worth £324 to over 8 million people, part of a £1,200 package for those on the lowest incomes.”