Those eye-popping 6.5% to 29% NHS pay rises are a lie – and I can prove it

The first rule of navigating the used car lot is that if the deal you’re being offered sounds too good to be true, well – those shiny-looking wheels will be a banger in disguise.

And, just as with used car salesmen, so it is, I’m afraid, with government pay deals.

You could hardly have missed this week’s eye-popping accounts of unprecedented Department of Health largesse towards hardworking NHS staff. Jeremy Hunt, the Secretary of State for Health, tweeted enthusiastically of a deal, bashed out with no less than 13 trade unions, in which 1.3 million staff would receive a guaranteed pay rise, over the next 3 years, of between 6.5% and 29%:

The headlines generated by a credulous media must have been a PR man’s dream. Here’s the Metro’s front-page splash, for example:

But the claimed pay rises are inaccurate. Beneath those used car lot headlines is a sober reality, in which no-one will actually receive a genuine 29% raise and – far worse – thousands of NHS staff will not even receive the promised minimum 6.5% pay increase. At worst, some staff will receive annual rises of barely a whisker more than the current 1% austerity rises imposed annually since 2011.

Sceptical? I was too, initially. After all, how could the mainstream media not have interrogated these figures themselves before obediently reproducing them?

Well, the proof lies in two easily-sourced official documents which, together, reveal how the government has artificially inflated the alleged pay rises by including annual, incremental pay awards that staff would have already received (on their existing payscales) in recognition of skill and experience accrued over time.

These two source documents are:

(1) the new “Framework Agreement for the proposed reform of NHS pay,” helpfully posted in the public domain by Health Service Journal journalist, Shaun Lintern

(2) the current (old) 2017-18 NHS England Agenda for Change payscales 

Pages 11-13 of the Framework Agreement purport to demonstrate, for each level of seniority of NHS staff, their “new” pay rise over 3 years. To expose the statistical sleights of hand deployed, take the example of staff on “point 24” of the payscale, screenshot below:

The total pay rise for a staff member on this point of the payscale would be, allegedly, 14.02% over 3 years. However, during that same 3 year period, their pay would have risen anyway on the old payscale by 10.48% (from £29,626 to £32,731), as they received their annual incremental pay awards, reaching point “27” on the old payscale. In other words, their actual pay rise on the proposed new pay deal is a mere 3.54%, spread over 3 years.

That’s not even close to the promised minimum pay rise of 6.5%.

It’s barely greater than 1% per annum.

Deploying the same simple arithmetic with the outlandish-sounding upper limit pay rises reveals, again, the dishonesty of the government’s figures. Let’s look at that alleged 29% pay rise. Here are those lucky individuals, on point “26” of the payscale:

But, once you deduct the increase in salary these staff members would have received anyway on the old payscale (from £31,696 to £35,577 = 12.24%), you find the headline figure of 29% shrinks down to an actual pay rise of 16.8%.

In short, the government – and the 13 unions who have agreed to sign up to these bogus figures, with the notable exception of the GMB – have misled NHS staff into thinking their pay rises over the next 3 years are vastly greater than they actually will be.

Yet again (remember, they have form on this), the government is playing smoke and mirrors with NHS staff, the media and the wider public.

Quite why the BBC, Channel 4, ITV, Sky, the Times, the Guardian, the Telegraph, the Mail and the rest of the mainstream media have not interrogated these figures for themselves is a mystery. It depresses me beyond belief that not one of them has bothered to do so.

But the bottom line is this.

Mr Hunt, Mrs May, can you not see that you have in NHS staff a 1.5 million-strong workforce of loyal, idealistic, tireless individuals upon whose goodwill the NHS survives?

I am not willing to stand by and allow the men and women with whom I work – the NHS health care assistants, nurses, paramedics, dieticians, administrators, technicians, lab staff, radiographers, physiotherapists, speech and language therapists, midwives, occupational therapists and every other invaluable member of the team – to be tricked and misled by duplicitous statistics.

So please, Prime Minister, Secretary of State, could you not, just once – with NHS morale so low and thus the stakes so high – be honest and straightforward with your statistics?