The Tories just gave 101% pay rises to their fat cat NHS chums, as underpaid nurses are going to foodbanks

Steve Topple

As the Conservative Party Conference discussed the NHS on Tuesday 4 October, it has been revealed that hospital bosses have been given huge pay rises. The increases, signed off by Tory ministers, have seen some fat cats get a staggering 101% increase in their pay. But at the same time, unions have warned that in five years time the NHS could be paying nurses below the minimum wage.

Laughing all the way to the bank

Freedom of Information (FOI) requests submitted by the Health Service Journal (HSJ) and seen by The Canary revealed that 22 NHS Trusts applied for pay rises for their bosses, which were approved. These people’s salaries are usually between £18,621 and £23,600 and if a trust wants to pay more it must be signed off by the government. But when you realise who some of these bosses are, it is of little surprise.

Peter Molyneux, Chair of the South West London and St George’s Mental Health Trust, saw his wage increase from £18,621 to £37,500. That’s a pay rise of 101%. Molyneux also runs a consultancy firm, CommonCause Consulting. Its clients include the City of London Corporation, NHS England and Tory-run Thurrock District Council. But Molyneux also does consultancy work for One Housing Group, whose Chief Executive, Mick Sweeney, spoke at the Conservative Party conference on Sunday 2 October. Furthermore, CommonCause also work for private companies involved in the NHS, such as Tunstall Telecom and Datix.

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Another NHS boss who got a substantial pay rise was John Bacon, Chair of Barts Health Trust. Bacon’s salary went from £23,600 to £45,000, a 91% increase. A former civil servant for the Department of Health, Bacon now works directly for them as Chair of Community Health Partnerships. He also sat on the panel appointed by David Cameron to investigate Jimmy Savile in 2012.

John MacDonald, Chair of University Hospitals of North Midlands Trust was already on £36,865 before he got another pay rise. MacDonald is also a director of IMD Consultancy, a firm who work “extensively” in the public sector. One such example was a “Commercial management” project it did for a medium-sized NHS Foundation Trust. It says it helped the trust “get more for less”; what it actually did was close 160 beds – framing it as an “opportunity“. In total, IMD sells its services to 123 NHS organisations across the UK.

In total, NHS bosses saw pay rises of nearly £300,000 since June 2015. And this all comes at a time when unions are warning that the NHS is facing a wage crisis.

The NHS: soon to be breaking the law?

The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) and 12 other unions have written to the NHS pay review body, recommending an above-inflation wage rise for health service staff. It has warned that, if the government continues to impose the current 1% pay cap, then the NHS will struggle to recruit staff.

The RCN is calling for a pay increase that begins to bring pay back to historic levels, as well as a return to UK-wide pay scales. This would mean that staff in England, Wales and Northern Ireland receiving the same pay rates as staff in Scotland.

If the government continues with current plans, the RCN warns, £280 million will have to be put into the NHS by 2021. If not, ministers will be in breach of their own minimum wage laws, with those on the lowest pay scales, such as hospital porters, cleaners and healthcare assistants, falling below the legal minimum. Since 2012 the government has stopped the NHS pay review body making wage recommendations above the 1% cap.

The RCN forecasts that Northern Ireland’s lowest paid health workers will fall below national living wage rates next year, in England and Wales it will happen the following year, and in Scotland by 2021. But due to devolution, both Wales and Scotland will soon be paying in line with the Living Wage Foundation rate of £8.25 outside of London.

From one extreme to the other

Janet Davies, chief executive and general secretary of the RCN, said:

Nursing staff are struggling to pay the bills, forced to work extra shifts to make ends meet and some are even relying on foodbanks. They have put up with a declining standard of living for six years because of their commitment to caring for their patients, but they can only be stretched so far and we are now in the grips of a recruitment and retention crisis.

But, in contrast, NHS Improvement, responsible for the pay increases of the bosses signed off by the Tory government, said:

To attract and retain the best talent, it is essential that chairs receive a reasonable level of remuneration that, at least to some degree, reflects the challenge, complexity and demands of the roles. [Our policy is to] increase standard chair’s pay when there is a specific need to recruit or retain leaders for these important roles.

It seems that money is no object when it comes to executive pay in the NHS. But in contrast, every penny counts for frontline staff. A chairman of an NHS Trust can get an 101% pay rise for attending one meeting a month; yet a frontline nurse, working 50-60 hours a week in the most trusted profession in the UK, is apparently not worth more than 1%. What possible justification there can be for this is hard to imagine. Except, possibly, that in the NHS it’s not ‘what you know’, but ‘who you know’.

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