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APPLAUSE for the NHS should be converted into an early pay rise for front-line staff, unions are demanding as the health service celebrates its anniversary this weekend.
Fourteen unions have written to Chancellor Rishi Sunak and Prime Minister Boris Johnson calling for pay talks to start soon so staff get a wage boost before the end of the year.
The unions collectively represent more than 1.3 million nurses, cleaners, physiotherapists, healthcare assistants, dieticians, radiographers, porters, midwives, paramedics and other NHS employees.
In separate letters the unions, including Unison, the Royal College of Nursing (RCN), the Royal College of Midwives (RCM), GMB, Unite and the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy, said the pandemic has made the dedication and commitment of NHS staff plain for all to see.
But now the public wants the government to turn its symbolic appreciation of health staff into something more substantial, the letter said.
The call comes as Britain prepares to remember workers who died from coronavirus and give thanks for the NHS on its 72nd birthday on Sunday.
Health workers are nearing the end of a three-year pay deal and unions are urging the government to provide the funding for a fair and early pay rise for all NHS staff, including the many domestic and catering workers, security guards and other support staff working for private contractors.
A fair wage increase would help staff feel valued after the huge pressures and challenges faced in recent months and would enable the NHS to hold onto experienced workers, including many who have returned to the service during the pandemic, the letter says.
But ministers must not see the appeal as a “Covid bonus,” the unions warned.
An early raise would also help with the recruitment of new staff needed to fill the many vacancies across every ward, department and clinic.
Between January and March this year there were 84,393 full-time equivalent roles advertised in England, according to NHS Digital reports before the lockdown.
Unison head of health Sara Gorton said: “The applause and kind words shown during the difficult days of the pandemic were a huge source of comfort to NHS staff. But now the government should show its appreciation in a different way.
“Throughout lockdown, the public has seen the immense dedication, commitment and compassion shown by NHS staff, and now expects them to be rewarded.”
RCM executive director for external relations Jon Skewes said: “Midwives and all NHS staff deserve a fair and decent pay rise. They did before this pandemic and they certainly do now. To truly value the contribution of NHS staff, their pay must be restored in real terms.”
Unite national officer for health Colenzo Jarrett-Thorpe said: “Warm words of praise by ministers and the weeks of Thursday evening clapping by a grateful nation are only part of the story.
“And that’s why a generous pay rise is required to repair the damage of the last decade when pay in real terms was eroded by an estimated 20 per cent."
Mr Jarrett-Thorpe said NHS staff do not want “ministerial platitudes on pay” but a “beyond substantial pay rise” for their commitment , especially over the pandemic “when they have put their lives on the line, literally.”
“As society returns slowly to the ‘new normal’, the government cannot be allowed to forget the dedication of NHS staff,” he added.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer spoke at a virtual NHS rally today in support of the unions’ calls.
He urged the government to agree to the deal “as soon as possible” to show NHS staff “the same commitment they have shown our country in its hour of need.”
On Sunday, there will be a national “Clap for the NHS” street event on the 72nd anniversary of the NHS, but Oxfordshire Keep Our NHS Public criticised government ministers for “handing our money to private companies” once the clapping stops.
The campaigners will be displaying “NHS deserves more than a clap” posters around Oxfordshire over the weekend.
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