Nurses are ‘working one day a week for free’, finds new pay analysis

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The Royal College of Nursing is currently balloting on strike action

Nurses work the equivalent of one day a week for free, according to new research.

Researchers from London Economics, commissioned by the Royal College of Nursing (RCN), analysed pay in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland since 2010. They found that in real terms, based on a five-day week, the salary of an experienced nurse has fallen by 20%.

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The Royal College of Nursing is currently balloting on strike actionThe Royal College of Nursing is currently balloting on strike action
The Royal College of Nursing is currently balloting on strike action | Kim Mogg/JPIMedia

According to the analysis, a pay rise for staff would help save NHS money because of how expensive it is to hire staff internationally, which is currently the main recruitment method used by the government.

The London Economics research looked at the pay of workers under the Agenda for Change contract. Figures looked at by the RCN show there are a record 47,000 unfilled registered nurse posts in England alone.

Dr Gavan Conlon, who oversaw the research, said bringing in staff from overseas costs approximately £16,900 more annually than retaining a nurse. Using agency workers is around £21,300 more per year. He said around 32,000 nurses are quitting the NHS per year at least in part because of the decline in living standards.

“The high costs of staff turnover suggest that staff retention is a cost-effective policy for the NHS,” Dr Conlon added. He said the research suggested “the economy is on its knees and will never get off its knees until we pay nurses more”.

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The research found that experienced nurses across England, Wales and Northern Ireland would need to receive a nominal pay rise of 45% by 2024-25 to restore their real-terms salaries to 2010-2011 levels.

During a visit to a south London hospital on Friday (28 October), Prime Minister Rishi Sunak was told by a patient that he needed to “look after ” the NHS and to “try harder” to support nurses. The Prime Minister, still in his first week in office, met with nurses and patients on a visit to a post-op ward.

When asked about by the Prime Minister about the care she had received from the nurses, the patient said: “You need to pay them.” Sunak said his government was trying, to which she responded: “You are not trying, you need to try harder.” Sunak went on to say that that NHS was important, with the patient adding: “Yes, and look after it”.

The RCN is currently balloting on strike action, with around 300,000 members being asked if they are prepared to walk out. The union is arguing for higher pay and immediate action to tackle hundreds of thousands of nursing vacancies across the country.

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RCN general secretary, Pat Cullen, said: “This exploitation of nursing staff cannot be tolerated any longer. In the pandemic, the politicians urged the public to clap for carers, but now they are wilfully ignoring nursing’s astonishing efforts and expertise.

“Ministers have stubbornly resisted the requirement to address the workforce crisis, including paying nursing fairly, instead rejecting any opportunity to act. They have taken advantage of nursing’s goodwill and steadfast determination to act in the interests of their patients.

“Our members have had enough. Expecting nursing staff to work one day a week for free is totally unacceptable.

“Patients deserve better from their politicians. Despite nursing staff working increasingly long hours and doing all they can, safe and effective care is being undermined by the failure of governments to act.”

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