A woman sitting on a sofa holding an energy bill and looking worried

4 October 2022

Putting two and two together

Are you on an NHS waiting list? With one in eight people in England now waiting for treatment and the backlog still growing, more and more of us can expect to get stuck in the queue for care.

It’s not just waiting lists that are breaking records. The number of vacancies across the NHS in England reached a shocking new high last month of over 130,000 – nearly one in ten posts.

Put the two together and it’s clear that patients are going to suffer.

NHS recovery needs a serious plan

As the new Secretary of State for Health and Social Care takes the stage at the Conservative Party Conference today, every one of us who values the NHS, relies on public healthcare, and cares about the amazing staff who deliver it, will be hoping she has a serious plan to turn things around.

No-one pretends there aren’t complex challenges facing our health system. Our ageing population, deteriorating economy and growing inequality all compound the problem. But some bits of the puzzle are an awful lot easier to solve. Maybe not as easy as ABCD – but certainly a bit of straightforward logic and arithmetic.

Same problem, same solution

“We want the best bankers to work in the UK”. Those defending the new PM’s decision to lift a cap on City bonuses are pretty clear about the equation ‘more pay = attract and retain staff’.

When it comes to billionaire bankers, it seems the maths is straightforward. But many of the same voices argue that our NHS nurses, porters, physiotherapists, midwives and cleaners should keep coming to work for the love of it.

Health workers are facing hardship

For a long time, many have. Healthcare workers put their lives on the line during the Covid pandemic despite over a decade of falling pay. But as the cost of living crisis bites, the same workers are struggling to put food on the table, heat their homes, and even keep a roof over their heads. Many are deciding they just can’t go on.

The pay award announced in July saw the real value of health workers’ salaries fall yet again, outstripped by inflation running at 10%. In the past week, we heard of nurses so hard up they’re skipping meals at work to feed their children, and record numbers quitting the NHS.  And all this is before staff are hit by the effects of soaring mortgage rates.

“There’s no light at the end of the tunnel. Everything just keeps getting worse.”

An opportunity to offer hope

Things are really tough in the NHS at the moment. People across the health team tell us they’re understaffed, suffering stress and burnout, and demoralised. It’s time to offer them – as well as the 6.5 million people waiting for care – a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel.

Therese Coffey has an opportunity today to show leadership. A substantial pay award would send an important signal to both staff and patients that prioritising NHS recovery isn’t an empty promise.