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‘Too little, too late’

Tories' belated NHS plan ignores a decade of eroding pay, critics warn

THE Tory government’s long-delayed and much-trailed NHS workforce plan is “too little, too late and ignores more than a decade of eroding take-home pay,” critics have warned. 

The proposals, published today after first being promised earlier this year, include commitments to double university places for medical students, launch an new apprenticeship scheme for doctors and shorten medical degrees.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak claimed the belated plan – published ahead of the austerity-hit NHS’s 75th anniversary next week – was “historic and had taken time to get right.”

But the labour movement noted a lack of any commitments to reverse years of plummeting take-home wages, which have helped cause more than 110,000 vacancies and sparked national strikes in recent months.

Both junior and senior doctors are set to walk out later in July, while the Unite union still has a strike mandate for some ambulance and support staff in England.

Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said: “This looks like a bold plan to transform the training of new staff in the NHS, but the devil is in the detail as usual.

“There is a promise of funding for training for three years, but nothing about money for current staff.

“If there is not enough money to pay NHS staff a decent wage now, then all the aspirations for more staffing will fail to address the current crisis in the recruitment and retention of staff.”

Unison‘s head of health Sara Gorton welcomed the plan but warned that for her union “action on retention is key.”

She said: “There are simply too few staff across all jobs and services – that makes it difficult for the NHS to function as a modern health system.

“Finding a fix for pay must lie at the heart of any solution. A new way to ensure competitive wage rises is essential if there is to be an end to the industrial unrest plaguing the NHS.”

Ms Gorton also highlighted the absence of proposals to mend social care, stressing the worsening situation will leave the NHS “having to go on picking up the pieces of that broken system.”

Dr John Lister of umbrella group Health Campaigns Together argued the plan is “not only too late, but far too little, barely grasping the scale of the task of retaining as well as recruiting the staff the NHS needs.”

He told the Morning Star: “Not only does the plan completely ignore the decade and more of erosion of real-terms pay, but it fails to face up to the many ways in which the NHS is failing as an employer to support and empower staff.

“Workforce management is too often terrible. Concerted action is needed to identify and deal with poor managers responsible for widespread discrimination and bullying.

“And it's high time the NHS addressed other problems that sap morale, including lousy IT, parking charges, access to hot meals especially on night shift, lack of creche facilities, flexible working and mental health support.”

He repeated calls for the health service to “reverse rip-off outsourcing” by in-housing all staff. 

Keep Our NHS Public co-chairman Dr John Puntis warned the announcement could be a “cynical piece of electioneering” ahead of the health service’s birthday on Wednesday.

He said voters should note that the “failure of the hospital building programme to be fully funded – or in fact to build new hospitals – shows the wide gap between government rhetoric and reality.”

Labour shadow health secretary Wes Streeting accused ministers of “nicking” his party’s own plans, while the Lib Dems slammed the proposals for being “too late” for the millions of people who have suffered in pain or died in hospital corridors waiting for treatment.

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