The passion, commitment, and specialist knowledge our doctors, nurses and other NHS staff provide is part of what makes our NHS so special, and I recognise that staff morale is vital to maintaining staff commitment to services.
The Government's overriding mission is to make the NHS the safest, highest quality healthcare system in the world, and, by committing record levels of funding to the NHS since 2010, we now have 11,300 more nurses on our wards and over 52,000 nurses now in training. The Government also recently committed to increase nurse training places by a further 25 per cent – the largest ever increase.
How we value and retain our staff is also critical, and I am encouraged by the Chancellor’s announcement that the 1 per cent pay cap will no longer be applied. Instead, the Government will look to the expert pay review bodies to deliver a more flexible settlement which balances the needs for affordability for taxpayers, improved retention for the system, and a fair reward for staff. These independent pay review bodies apply their expertise and objectivity in making recommendations to Government. Any changes will need to be justified by the available evidence on recruitment, productivity gains, and particularly retention. As I understand, the Department of Health will continue to look at efficiency and value for money within its existing budget, which continues to see year-on-year increases.
Concerning pay awards in recent years, you may be aware that the NHS is one of few public sector workforces that receive annual incremental pay progression. Around half of staff on Agenda for Change (AfC) contracts receive incremental pay of around 3 per cent on average. For example a typical qualified nurse (Band 5) can expect seven years of pay progression averaging around 3.8 per cent a year, in addition to annual pay awards. This means pay rises in addition to the 1 per cent headline award have been received, although I appreciate that this may not reflect your own circumstances.
To help support NHS staff in their duty of care, the Government has also committed to increase NHS spending in England by at least £8 billion in real terms by 2022. And, by cutting bureaucracy and championing higher standards, Ministers have ensured this money goes, directly, to frontline care.