Level paying field

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Margaret Wheeler on delivering parity on employment conditions for all working in our NHS and care sector

On the day of the 70th anniversary of the NHS, it is right that we pay tribute to the work and dedication of staff across the whole of our health and social care sector: in our hospitals, at GP surgeries, community and mental health services, and in home support and residential care.

That is why Labour is calling on the government to acknowledge the importance of parity of esteem in the pay and professional standing of all delivering health support and care in our country. This is vital if we are going to achieve the fully integrated services we all want to see.

This year’s three-year pay deal was welcome. But it doesn’t apply to those working for contracted-out NHS services. Nor to staff in the voluntary sector, such as in hospices, nursing and care homes. Or indeed to those providing essential care services to people in their homes – such as washing, dressing and feeding.

In nursing and care homes, for example, pay and conditions (including pension entitlements) for many employees lag significantly behind those of the NHS, making it hard to attract and retain staff. There are almost 50,000 registered nurses in the social care sector but one-fifth of these are on zero-hours contracts. This is also true of 325,000 care workers – a quarter of the workforce.

Health Minister Lord O’Shaughnessy has told peers he wants to see ‘a level-playing field’ between NHS and non-NHS providers of care. So far so good but we have stressed to the government that this requires a levelling-up of both pay and professional standing across the sector. Local authorities must receive the national funding necessary to address the social care crisis and pay staff in the care sector at levels which fully recognise the work they do. And to also ensure that voluntary sector organisations are paid fees for residential and home care which meet the cost of fair levels of staff pay and at the same time provide quality services.

Labour also wants to see urgent progress on Health Education England’s joint workforce strategy to address future training, recruitment and staff retention needs. Both the National Audit Office and the Long-term NHS Sustainability Committee have been heavily critical of the government’s failure to produce this strategy, with the latter body viewing it as ‘the biggest internal threat to the stability of the NHS’. Rectifying this matter would be a good way for Ministers to show they really do care about the future of the service.

Baroness Margaret Wheeler is a member of the Shadow Health team in the House of Lords

Published 4th July 2018

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