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At the start of the pandemic, NHS earnings had fallen in real terms by over £600 per employee over the last decade Health Foundation response to proposed 1% pay rise for NHS staff

5 March 2021

About 2 mins to read

Responding to the government's evidence to the NHS review body of a proposed 1% pay rise for NHS staff, Anita Charlesworth, Director of Research and the REAL Centre at the Health Foundation, said: 

‘The NHS has suffered from chronic staffing shortages for years. Following a tough budget for future public sector spending, today’s proposal that pay rises for NHS staff are held at 1% risks exacerbating those shortages. 

‘The government has repeatedly held down pay to balance the NHS budget as funding has not kept pace with demand. At the start of the pandemic, NHS wages were £600 per employee lower in real terms than in 2011/12. On average, NHS earnings have risen by just 1.5% a year since 2011/12, below inflation which averaged 1.8% a year (see Table 1 and Figure 1 below). 

‘Times have been tough across the economy over the last decade but when it comes to pay NHS staff have fared much worse than others. ONS weekly earnings data show average earnings across all sectors in the economy were 3% higher in 2019/20 than in 2011/12, compared with a 2% decrease for NHS staff.

‘NHS staff have been on the front line of the COVID-19 response with many exhausted and burnt out. NHS services can only recover if the health service can recruit and retain more staff.  These are hard decisions to take, with borrowing at record levels but workforce pressures are the biggest challenge facing the NHS and today’s proposals will do little to boost retention or recruitment in the future.’

Media contact

Simon Perry
020 7257 2093

Figure 1

Table 1: Annual earnings growth in the NHS hospital and community health sector and changes in the Consumer Price Index (2011/12 – 2019/20) 

  Year-on-year earnings growth in the NHS hospital and community health sector Consumer Price Index Difference
2011/12 1.7% 3.5% -1.8%
2012/13 1.7% 2.8% -1.1%
2013/14 0.6% 1.6% -1.0%
2014/15 0.7% 0.0% 0.7%
2015/16 0.7% 0.5% 0.2%
2016/17 0.7% 2.3% -1.6%
2017/18 1.3% 2.5% -1.2%
2018/19 2.6% 1.9% 0.7%
2019/20 2.9% 1.5% 1.4%
Average 1.5% 1.8% -0.3%


Source: NHS Digital and ONS Consumer Price Index data (for March at the end of every financial year) 

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