NHS staff are quitting to stack shelves in supermarkets instead of caring for patients because they are so demoralised by years of getting pay rises of only 1% or nothing, hospital bosses have warned.
The health service is now so understaffed that patient safety is being put at risk and people with mental health problems are experiencing delays and setbacks as a result, NHS leaders say.
The intervention in the general election campaign comes from NHS Providers, which represents almost all of England’s 240 NHS hospital, mental health and ambulance trusts. They told ministers bluntly on Monday that the government’s longstanding policy of holding down NHS staff pay is wrong and is damaging the service by deepening its already severe staff shortages.
“Years of pay restraint and stressful working conditions are taking their toll,” said Chris Hopson, NHS Providers’ chief executive. “Pay is becoming uncompetitive. Significant numbers of trusts say lower paid staff are leaving to stack shelves in supermarkets rather than carry on with the NHS.”
He urged Theresa May to abandon her plan to limit NHS staff’s pay increases to 1% a year until 2020 and not pursue it during the next parliament as a way of making the NHS’s books balance.
He added: “Trust leaders tell us that seven years of NHS pay restraint is now preventing them from recruiting and retaining the staff they need to provide safe, high-quality patient care. The NHS can’t carry on failing to reflect the contribution of our staff through fair and competitive pay for five more years.
“Pay restraint must end and politicians must therefore be clear about when during the lifetime of the next parliament it will happen and how.” He repeated the organisation’s demand for £25bn in extra funding to help the NHS in England get through until 2020 and warned that staff are also leaving because they are exhausted from having to work so constantly to keep up with the unprecedented demand for care.