A coalition of health service unions and the Prison Officers Association have called on Theresa May to scrap the pay cap for NHS workers or risk driving staff away.
In a letter to the Prime Minister, 14 healthcare unions and the POA urged Mrs May to use the Queen’s Speech on Wednesday to end the 1% pay cap that has applied to public sector workers for seven years.
The unions, including the Royal College of Nursing and the British Medical Association, which represents doctors, said the cap has effectively cut pay by 14%, or £3,000 a year, for nursing staff since 2010.
In a joint letter to Mrs May, they warned that pay restraint is preventing the NHS from recruiting enough people to fill tens of thousands of vacancies, and driving some staff away from the service.
“The Public Sector Pay Cap has forced professionals out of jobs they love,” they wrote. “Those who stay are overstretched and under pressure to do ever more with less.
“The longstanding cap stands in the way of recruiting and retaining the best in health care. It is having a profound and detrimental effect on standards of care for people at a time when the NHS is short of staff across every discipline.”
The letter comes after Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt said last week he would raise the pay cap issue with the Chancellor of the Exchequer Phillip Hammond.
Mr Hunt said of around 150,000 EU citizens working in health and social care: “They are part of the NHS family. We want them. We need them.”
His comments followed suggestions from other members of the Government, including Michael Gove, that austerity may be eased following the Conservative’s loss of their Commons majority in the General Election.
The commitment of NHS and other public sector staff subject to the pay cap has been emphasised by recent events, including the four terror attacks on London and Manchester, and the Grenfell Tower fire.
Unions say the impact of the pay cap on the health service has been disastrous, contributing to a recruitment crisis across the service.
At the NHS Confederation Conference last week, speakers and delegates from across the health service cited recruitment as the biggest challenge they face.
The Government has also ended the £6,000 a-year bursary for student nurses, with some colleges reporting a decline in the number of students taking up training courses.
The impact of Brexit also appears to have contributed, with a 96% decline in the number of nurses from the European Union registering to work in the UK since the vote to leave the European Union.
The British Medical Association has called on the Government to prioritise the health service in negotiations with the EU, which begin today.
It says almost half of the 10,000 qualified EU doctors and medical researchers in the UK are considering leaving in light of the Brexit vote, and argues they should be granted permanent residence in the UK.
The BMA also calls for the immigration system to meet the demands of the health service, and for the Government to secure research programs currently funded by the EU.
“With the NHS at breaking point, the Government must keep the health service and its patients at the forefront during Brexit negotiations and control the impact that leaving the EU will have on health and social care across the UK,” said BMA chairman Dr Mark Porter.