Will the Treasury insist that the Track and Trace £8.7bn underspend is returned to them or could it be used to pay for the pay rise (many times over)? See NAO report for details of the underpend. – Owl
NHS told to find £1.5bn of savings to fund staff pay rise, despite fears of service cuts
The NHS has been told to find £1.5bn of savings from within existing budgets to fund the pay rise for staff announced on Wednesday, in a move branded “brutally unfair” by nurses’ representatives.
The chaotic announcement of the 3 per cent boost for 1 million workers prompted suspicions of a battle between chancellor Rishi Sunak and health secretary Sajid Javid over who pays the bill.
In the Commons, former health secretary Jeremy Hunt demanded a commitment that the £1.5bn cost would not mean “cuts” to wider health or care spending.
But Boris Johnson’s spokesperson said, shortly afterwards: “The pay uplift will be funded from within the NHS budget.”
He claimed the move would “not impact funding already earmarked for the NHS frontline”, but it was unclear how that could be avoided if savings are required.
Royal College of Nursing general secretary and chief executive Pat Cullen said: “This pay announcement is fast unravelling. Not only is the figure scandalously low but Downing Street has been forced to admit that the money isn’t new either.
“It is brutally unfair to force the NHS to do yet more with the same money. Ministers must be honest about the impact this would have on patient care.
“The government is failing to give the NHS the money it truly needs. This current game of smoke and mirrors is dangerous for patients and nursing staff who care for them.”
Labour’s shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth said it was clear that Mr Javid was “refusing to back up the pay settlement with the cash needed, instead expecting overstretched hospitals to find this extra money” at a time of summer crisis due to Covid and a backlog of cancelled operations.
“The NHS needs a fully funded plan to provide quality care, and bring ballooning waiting lists down,” said Mr Ashworth. “Alongside this, ministers must provide the NHS with the extra investment required to give staff a pay rise.”
Meanwhile, the British Medical Association (BMA) branded the government “callous and unjust”, as it emerged that tens of thousands of NHS doctors are being excluded from the 3 per cent hike despite advice from an independent pay review body that they should be included.
Mr Hunt, now the chair of the Commons health committee, also warned against diverting cash from the care sector, fearing it “once again loses out because of pressures in the NHS”.
Nadhim Zahawi also came under fire over the plan for “vaccine passports” to enter crowded venues, starting with nightclubs from the end of September.
The minister triggered suspicions that the government might swerve a vote it is in danger of losing, by saying: “We reserve the right to mandate its use in the future.”
But, under pressure from MPs on all sides demanding a vote first, Mr Zahawi conceded parliament would have an “appropriate say on the matter”.
The minister also lifted the lid on other “crowded venues” that might be included, if the crackdown goes ahead as threatened.
He namechecked “music venues”, “business events and festivals” and “spectator sport events” – with the Premier League already known to be considering the move.
“We’ve seen in other countries, whether it’s in Holland or in Italy, the opening of nightclubs and then having to reverse that decision rapidly,” he told MPs.
“So what we’re attempting to do – the reason we have the Covid vaccination pass in place – is to work with industry in this period, whilst we give people over the age of 18 the chance to become double-vaccinated.”
However, many believe it is a phantom threat, to browbeat young people to accept vaccination by September – as Mr Johnson allegedly acknowledged in a private briefing with Tory MPs
Mr Zahawi also came under fierce pressure to bring forward the 16 August date for exempting the double vaccinated from isolation rules, if identified as a close contact of a Covid case.
Mr Hunt urged the government to “listen to public opinion and scrap the 10-day isolation requirement immediately”, provided those people tested negative for Covid with a lab test.
“Otherwise we risk losing social consent for this very, very important weapon against the virus,” he warned Mr Zahawi.
But the minister said accelerating the change would “run the risk of infection rates running away with us”, over the next few weeks.