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SAJID JAVID is being urged to improve NHS pay to stop the exodus of health service staff who are facing “a cost-of-living apocalypse” as energy bills are expected to soar to £2,800 a year.
Unison has written to the Health and Social Care Secretary, warning that the NHS workforce is in crisis and more employees quitting will lead to longer ambulance queues outside hospitals, ever-increasing waiting lists and people who are in desperate need of treatment becoming even more ill.
NHS staff will gather outside the union’s London headquarters to send off a letter in a giant envelope addressed to Mr Javid featuring a special “Put NHS pay right” stamp.
The letter reads: “What every NHS employee needs, from nurses and paramedics to porters and healthcare assistants, is a decent wage rise and genuine measures to convince them to stay.”
More than 35,000 health staff and members of the public have signed an online version of the letter.
Unison head of health Sara Gorton said: “This is a desperate situation, with NHS staff already quitting in their droves.
“The government can no longer put its head in the sand over this crisis.
“It’s patients who will suffer when there are too few staff to provide proper care.”
She called on ministers to ensure an above-inflation NHS wage rise and an end to poverty pay.
One health worker said: “I’m living in fear of the next bill or rise in food and petrol. My family is living hand to mouth.
“My heart sank when the council tax bill came yesterday. I’ve worked for the NHS for 30 years and never felt poorer.”
Keep Our NHS Public co-chairman Dr John Puntis said that NHS workers’ spending power has fallen considerably due to years of public-sector pay freezes, with “devastating effects” for those on lower incomes.
He said: “With 110,000 staff vacancies and no credible workforce plan, the government must realise that pay justice for staff demands a significant pay rise.
“This will aid recruitment and retention and is the only way of maintaining standards of care.”
The letter was sent after Ofgem chief executive Jonathan Brearley told MPs yesterday that the energy price cap is expected to increase by a further £830 to £2,800 in October, which will plunge households into a “deep, deep crisis.”
Mr Brearley told the Commons business, energy and industrial strategy committee that this was caused by the market facing “once-in-a-generation” price changes “not seen since the oil crisis of the 1970s.”
Ofgem’s forecast represents a further 42 per cent hike following April’s price cap increase of 54 per cent, which was equivalent to an increase of £693 a year.
The Resolution Foundation said that almost 10 million households could find themselves in “fuel stress” this winter if Ofgem’s prediction comes true.
Analysis by the economic think tank suggests that he number of families living in fuel stress — defined as spending at least 10 per cent of their total budget on energy alone — will rise from five million to 9.6 million.
End Fuel Poverty Coalition co-ordinator Simon Francis said: “Fuel poverty becomes a public health emergency in winter.
“And the hidden cost of the government’s continued inaction will be felt in a collapse in the mental health of those in fuel poverty, increased pressure on the NHS from those with health conditions affected by damp properties and excess winter deaths caused by cold homes.
“Unless the government acts now, it will have blood on its hands this winter.”
Mr Francis called for a windfall tax on energy firms and investment in a great homes upgrade.
National Energy Action chief executive Adam Scorer said that Ofgem’s warning will “strike terror into the hearts of millions of people already unable to heat and power their homes.”
He called for more financial support before next winter.
We Own It director Catt Hobbs said: “People are already going hungry. In October, they will be shivering and wondering why we can’t just bring energy into public ownership.”
She pointed to countries such as Norway and France, which have protected the public rather than shareholders by limiting price rises, adding: “This is a political choice.”
“We need a state-owned renewables company, nationalised transmission and distribution and a publicly owned energy supplier that can use surplus profits to make sure everyone can afford to live.”
TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady hit out at ministers for “doing nothing” to ensure that wages and universal credit keep pace with rising energy prices.
She said: “Chancellor [Rishi Sunak] must provide more help to families now.
“We need an emergency Budget — it’s time to get on with it.”
“The best way to get cash to low and middle-income families fast is through a big boost to universal credit.
“And we need a major programme of energy grants to cut bills, funded through a windfall tax on the profits of energy companies.”
GMB union general secretary Gary Smith warned that the price cap will turn the cost-of-living crisis into a catastrophe for low-paid workers.
He said: “Millions of carers, school staff, NHS employees, retail workers and more will be plunged into fuel poverty.
“Meanwhile, the Chancellor and Prime Minister [Boris Johnson] do nothing, hamstrung by their own squabbles.
“At exactly the time we need firm leadership and action, this administration is asleep at the wheel.”
Labour shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves said that the government “have got to get a grip” on the crisis and protect families and the economy.
“Yet again, Labour calls urgently on the government to bring forward an emergency Budget, with a windfall tax on oil and gas producer profits to lower bills for families,” she said.
Downing Street acknowledged that energy prices are a “significant challenge,” adding that the government is “actively looking at what more could be done in this space. That’s something that the Chancellor and PM are focused on.”
Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said that bill-payers must “wait and see” what extra help will be offered.
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