Health chiefs press for further pay freeze

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GPs’ pay should be frozen while hospital doctors should have their pay squeezed and other National Health Service staff be given a below-inflation basic pay increase, the Department of Health has said in its evidence to the independent pay review bodies.

GPs received increases of more than 30 per cent on average over two years as a result of their new contract in 2004 but since then their pay has been frozen.

A nil award from next April would mean a freeze for the third year running. Any rise in earnings would come only from improvements in the level and quality of service.

Dentists and most hospital doctors would receive only a 1.5 per cent increase – below current inflation – while most other NHS staff, including nurses, would receive only a 2 per cent increase.

Any higher rise would force primary care trusts to make commissioning decisions “which may be based on the need to lose jobs or reduce their planned investment in local service improvement,” the health department says in its evidence.

The department’s evidence comes as the Treasury is seeking increases across the public sector “consistent” with its 2 per cent inflation target, while unions seek above-inflation rises.

The department argues that the majority of staff are not at the top of NHS pay scales, so that a 2 per cent rise in the headline increase for nurses and others translates in practice into a 4.6 per cent average rise – “well above the current underlying consumer price index inflation rate, and [well above] current average earnings increase in both the private and public sectors.”

Many doctors, it says, will receive rises of between 4 and 8 per cent as they move up pay scales, without any increase in headline pay.

The British Medical Association, which is seeking headline pay increases of between 3.6 and 4.3 per cent, said the profession “is being constantly undermined, fuelled by attacks from the government, on their levels of pay”.

The department’s evidence acknowledges that staff grade and associate specialist hospital doctors are due a contract that may give them bigger rises. But it urges the review bodies not to “misinterpret” projections that the NHS will have a £1bn to £2bn surplus this year “as a signal that the NHS can afford higher pay rises”.

Much of this money is committed, the department says, not least to paying the full effects of this year’s staged pay award. The evidence reveals the health department is planning for an annual surplus of £400m a year “to assist with contingency planning”.

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