Department of Health has MISSED deadline for key 2023/24 pay review that could spell end to devastating NHS strikes

  • MP said delay as ‘intolerable’ given how ministers used body to dodge criticism 
  • This year’s NHS pay rolls on with a fresh wave of ambulance strikes announced   

Department of Health bosses have yet to submit evidence to the NHS Pay Review Body for next year, it was revealed today. 

Ministers were meant to have given their take on what the country can and should pay health staff by January 11. 

Their submission is a critical part of the recommendations which go on to form the annual pay rise for over a million NHS workers, including nurses and paramedics, in the cost of living crisis. 

Striking NHS unions have already been told to ‘look forward’ to the bump, due to be announced in April for the upcoming 2023/24 financial year. 

Tory MP and ex-health minister Steve Brine he was astonished by the Government’s failure to meet the deadline for NHS pay evidence adding that  it had left the pay body ‘making chocolate without cocoa beans’

NHS Pay Review Body chair Philippa Hird said the Government was currently 21 days late for its submission but the body was still planning to its NHS pay recommendation for the coming financial year by April

Last year’s award, which amounted to roughly 4 per cent, prompted a string of walk-outs this winter. 

Industrial action — which could rumble on until the spring — has already led to thousands of routine appointments and operations being cancelled.

Some unions have demanded inflation-busting pay hikes of almost 20 per cent. 

Ex-health minister Steve Brine, now chair of the Commons’ Health and Social Care Committee, said he was ‘astonished’ by today’s revelation.

He added that ministers had effectively used the same Pay Review Body’s previous recommendation to shield themselves from criticism for refusing to negotiate with striking NHS staff.

‘Having spent all the holiday season, since the remit letter in effect, standing behind the Pay Review Body then to not respond by the date you asked for,’ he said in response to the revelation of the missed deadline. 

‘This must be intolerable.’

Mr Brine also questioned how the body could go forward in crafting a pay recommendation for April without the Department of Health’s recommendation. 

‘It’s like saying, “we’re making chocolate without cocoa beans”, you’re missing a big gap,’ he said.

The Treasury has submitted evidence, however, MPs were told.

Body chair, Philippa Hird, who appeared before the Committee today, said they were pressing on regardless, and she hoped the Department would still submit evidence.

‘We are carrying on with our work,’ she said.  

‘If it doesn’t come, we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.’

The NHS Pay Review Body, and the debate surrounding its independence, has been thrust into the spotlight during the NHS strikes. 

It was set up under Margaret Thatcher, and is a Government-appointed group tasked with making recommendations on pay for staff in the health service.

Unions and NHS employers submit evidence on what salaries are needed to improve staffing numbers,  while the Government tells the body what the nation can afford

The body then weighs up the evidence before making a recommendation on pay.

Unison’s announcement of fresh ambulance strike dates for February means there will be only day next week where NHS staff will not be striking in some form 

But unions have increasingly criticised ministers for using the system as a shield to avoid discussing pay, as well as it being too inflexible to sudden shifts in inflation. 

The body’s recommendations are non-binding, meaning the Government can choose to ignore them.  

Earlier this month, 15 unions representing NHS staff said they would be boycotting this year’s process over a lack of faith in its outcome. 

Ms Hird told MPs she wrote to Health Secretary Steve Barclay over the lack of a Department of Health and Social Care response ahead of January 11.

‘A few days before then I wrote to the Minister to reiterate the importance of the deadline and he wrote back straight away confirming he understood the importance of the deadline,’ she said.

Reacting to the revelation, NHS union Unison’s head of health Sara Gorton said: ‘After promising everyone a quicker pay review body process, the secretary of state’s own department failed to get its evidence in on time earlier this month.

‘The Government’s tactics seem to be to dig in, wait months for the pay review body report and hope the dispute goes away. It won’t. And in the meantime, staff will carry on quitting, and patients being let down.

‘There can be no health service without the staff to run it. Ministers must open proper talks to end the dispute and put in place the urgent retention plan needed to boost pay and staffing across the NHS.’

The dispute between ministers and NHS unions shows no sign of abating, with the health service currently bracing for what could be the largest strike in its history on February 6. 

This day of action will see both NHS nurses from the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) and ambulance staff from the union Unite strike on the same day in England, the first coordinated action of its kind in the current dispute. 

Meanwhile, Unison today announced a fresh wave of ambulance strike days for that same week.

Bosses revealed their members will return to the picket lines in London, Yorkshire, the South West, North East and North West on February 10. 

The announcement means NHS workers are taking action nearly every day next week — with RCN members also striking on February 7 and physiotherapists also staging a walkout on February 9.

February 8 is the only day patients are not set to face disruption. 

Unison today urged the Government to ‘stop pretending the strikes will simply go away’ and offer ambulance staff better pay.

Ms Gorton, the union’s head of health, said: ‘Ministers must stop fobbing the public off with promises of a better NHS, while not lifting a finger to solve the staffing emergency staring them in the face.

‘The Government must stop playing games. Rishi Sunak wants the public to believe ministers are doing all they can to resolve the dispute. They’re not.

‘There are no pay talks, and the prime minister must stop trying to hoodwink the public. It’s time for some honesty. Ministers are doing precisely nothing to end the dispute.’

The Department of Health and Social Care was contacted for comment on its failure to meet the NHS Pay Review Body deadline. 

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