Pay a visit to Health Secretary Steve Barclay’s Twitter feed and you’ll find graphics trumpeting increased funding to the NHS. It’s obvious why he’d boast about it. Polls consistently show huge majorities of the public in favour of putting more money into the health service.
A great return on investment
It’s not just smart politics – investing in health also gives a really good return for your money. Research for the NHS Confederation showed that every £1 invested in the NHS generates £4 back in wider economic activity.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, having lots of people unable to work due to long-term sickness is really bad for productivity. With over 7 million of us now languishing on NHS England’s waiting lists, there’s a lot of potential workers who could get back to the labour market if they got treatment.
NHS pay – the hole in the plan
So – good for the government, right? Well, not quite so fast. Because there’s a big hole at the heart of Mr Barclay’s boast. It’s a cavernous empty space where a nurse should be. Where a midwife should be. Where a physio, cleaner, healthcare assistant, administrator, occupational therapist and porter should be.
Because sadly, in the government’s NHS investment, there’s no money to properly pay its workforce. The million-strong team of talented, dedicated professionals who keep it all going and who you and I probably thought were the NHS, not some collection of buildings or machines.
It’s madness, because you can create new clinics, new services, even build new hospitals till they’re coming out of your ears. But they won’t do you any good unless you can staff them. And right now, finding staff to run existing services is nigh on impossible. After more than a decade of real-terms pay cuts, in a cost of living crisis, many just can’t afford to stay.
An effective way to support the UK economy
What’s even more mad about not paying desperately-needed staff enough money to stay in the NHS, is that paying them more would be a sensible and effective way to support the UK economy. Those million health workers live in every part of the UK. And when you boost their pay, you boost spending in every community across the country.
In fact, the Treasury would get so much back – more tax coming in, fewer benefits going out – that independent analysis by London Economics last year showed an increase of 10% for everyone on the Agenda for Change pay scale (ie all non-medical NHS staff) would have a net cost of just £0.66bn. That’s about two per cent of what it cost to let Liz Truss and Kwasi Kwarteng have a play with the economic toy box.
Reducing the agency pay bill
Or to put it another way, a decent pay rise would set us back about ten pounds a head per person in the UK. For our tenner, we’d get to avert strike action, and start to recruit and retain staff to fill the ever-expanding number of vacancies across the NHS.
And if we did, we’d actually start to get even more of that money back. Because running a health service with one in ten posts vacant is really, really expensive. Earlier this month, the BBC reported that desperate Trusts are paying as much as £2,500 to cover a shift. Total spending on agency staff in England was up 20% last year to £3bn. Taxpayers are picking up the bill, even while standards of care suffer.
Investing in our NHS is the right thing to do – to safeguard our care, and grow our economy. But it starts with a decent pay rise for NHS staff.