A HEALTH minister risked NHS fury today by insisting the offer of a 1% pay rises for nurses is the "most we can afford" despite their work on the Covid frontline.
Nadine Dorries said the Government had to prioritise economy boosting and jobs-protecting measures like extending the furlough scheme over more money for health care workers.
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And she urged nurses to "stick with us" despite the low offer – which amounts to just £3.50 a week – because of their love of the job.
The proposed pay rise has been described as a "kick in the teeth" and has prompted warnings health workers could quit the profession in droves.
But Ms Dorries said she was "pleasantly surprised" the Government had offered up the cash while it is freezing wages for other public sector staff.
She said: "The 1% offer is the most we think we can afford. It's what the offer is. It would be wrong to say a single person in the Government doesn't appreciate the effort of nurses.
"It is important to note that the priority of the Government has been about
protecting people's livelihoods, about continuing the furlough scheme, about fighting the pandemic, and we've put huge effort into that.
"We do not want nurses to go unrecognised – or doctors – and no other public-sector employee is receiving a pay rise, there has been a pay freeze."
Ms Dorries admitted that "everybody in an ideal world would love to see nurses paid far more".
But she insisted: "Nurses are about more than superficial soundbite. They love their job. I hope those nurses who love their jobs too will stay in the NHS and stick with us."
And she suggested the offer could yet be improved on the back of feedback from unions and NHS stakeholders.
The health minister said nurses have had a 12% increase in pay over the past three years which has taken the average salary up to £34,000 a year.
It comes after Dame Donna Kinnair, the chief executive of the Royal College of Nursing said the paltry pay rise could see more NHS staff quit.
She said: "This is pitiful and bitterly disappointing. The Government is dangerously out of touch with nursing staff, NHS workers and the public/
"Nobody would think that is fair in the middle of a pandemic and it will do nothing to prevent the exodus from nursing.
"If we can't afford to nurse we will find other things to do."
Shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth fumed: "Governments make decisions about how to spend money. It stinks."
He added: “Rishi Sunak’s promised to be open and honest with the public yet shamefully insults every single member of NHS staff sneaking out this announcement and failing to include any mention of NHS pay in the budget.
“NHS staff deserve a fair pay rise.”
Dr Chaand Nagpaul, Council chair of the British Medical Association, described the decision as "a kick in the teeth".
He said: “Throughout the pandemic, doctors have cared for more critically ill patients than was ever thought possible and worked round the clock despite suffering from extreme stress and exhaustion, with BMA surveys showing significant numbers of doctors selflessly working extra hours without pay.
"This is a time at which the Government should demonstrate that it recognises the contribution of a workforce that has literally kept this country alive for the past 10 months."
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