NHS workers demanding significant pay rise in pandemic

A recent article from the BBC reports that NHS trade unions and NHS workers in Wales are demanding significant pay rises after dealing with the fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic first-hand.

A group of nine total trade unions wrote to the Welsh government in an open letter demanding higher wages for NHS staff, with an additional presentation to be given to health minister Eluned Morgan on Wednesday about the matter.

The Welsh government is to give an announcement about the matter which is expected to be published later this June.

NHS workers have received a pay rise earlier this year of 1%, which outraged many staff as well as individuals within the UK as a pay increase worth £3.50 seemed insulting for many.

In fact, the small increase resulted in The Royal College of Nursing reacting angrily to the government’s decision, with the organisation adding that NHS staff should be given a pay rise of 12.5% to reflect their hard work during the pandemic as well as their importance to the day to day running of the service.

However, the UK government claimed that a 1% pay rise is all which could be given to the NHS, with the main reason behind the increase being the fact that the government did not want staffs wages to be undercut by inflation.

But, as previously stated, organisations such as The Royal College of Nursing have said that this increase is not enough.

Nevertheless, the government claimed that there is simply not enough money to increase the pay of NHS staff substantially.

And this is rightfully so as the current government debt has reached up to £2.4 trillion during the pandemic as the government has been forced to significantly overspend its budget on schemes such as Furlough

This is because the governments budget is limited, it cannot get an infinite amount of revenue from sources such as tax as resources are scarce.

Consequently, if the government were to increase the wages of NHS staff by a substantial amount, two decisions would have to be made, either a cut in spending on other public goods or, a further expansion in the governments budget deficit.

The first decision, a spending cut, is not ideal as the opportunity cost associated with the decision may actually offset the benefit gained from the pay rise, for example, if the government were to cut armed forces spending, jobs could be lost thus placing additional pressure on schemes such as Job Seekers Allowance, squashing the governments budget even further.

The latter decision, incurring more debt, also has a negative opportunity cost associated with it, especially in the long term, as the UK government will have to further increase tax rates on future generations in an effort to pay back COVID-19 debt repayments.

However, it is undeniable that the NHS has been placed under severe pressure during the pandemic, and the staff within it have not had it easy.

This pressure is illustrated by the excess demand for NHS services as currently, 5.1 million outstanding patients are waiting for NHS treatment.

Consequently, it is clear that the NHS does not have the resources necessary to treat patients in a timely manner, thus leading to a total of 36,000 empty nursing vacancies within the country.

And the small rise in NHS wages does not do this much justice as the decision has likely discouraged many prospecting NHS workers to switch to a different field of work, one which pays better and is easier to do.

Therefore, although the small 1% pay rise has prevented a short-term opportunity cost for the government, as the public sector does not has to incur as much debt and does not have to introduce additional pay cuts, it may have led to a more ‘hidden,’ long-term opportunity cost as in future, the likelihood is that the decision to not give any meaningful pay rises has swayed young people to enter work at the NHS, thus starving the public health service of additional resources for future generations.


Written by Hubert Kucharski

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