Boris Johnson has defended plans to give some NHS staff in England a 1% pay rise, amid warnings that “undervalued” nurses could quit.
The government is giving workers “as much as we can” in the “tough times” of the Covid pandemic, Mr Johnson said.
Asked about the proposed pay rise on a visit to a coronavirus vaccination centre in Brent in north London, Mr Johnson said: “What we have done is try to give them as much as we can at the present time.
“Don’t forget that there has been a public sector pay freeze, we’re in pretty tough times.”
He added he was “massively grateful” to “heroic” health and social care workers during the pandemic.
But the Royal College of Nursing reiterated its calls for the government to make a U-turn on the 1% offer.
The union’s general secretary, Dame Donna Kinnair, said: “More of these warm words for nurses are not going to cut it.”
The rise, which is being considered by an independent panel, would cover most hospital staff.
Last year the government promised to give NHS workers a 2.1% pay rise.
NHS Providers, which represents NHS trusts in England, said a long-term plan set out years ago by the government had assumed a pay rise of more than 2% for healthcare workers in 2021/22.
The proposed pay rise for this year has been set at 1%, prompting anger from unions and opposition MPs.
In contrast, the Royal College of Nursing is calling for a 12.5% pay rise for Agenda for Change staff as part of its Fair Pay for Nursing campaign.
Johnson said the government had “tried to give the NHS as much as we possibly can” to tackle Covid, and had provided £62bn to the health service on top of its usual annual allocation of £140bn.
Pressed by the BBC’s Andrew Marr on whether there could be a rethink on the pay rise, Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said: “What the government has put forward has been passed to an independent review.
“We’ve put forward what we believe we can afford and it is part of a process and that is what will be looked at,” he added.
“But really, our focus is on making sure we recover from this pandemic.”
£3.50-a-week pay rise ‘insulting’ and ‘hypocrisy’
The general public are asking serious questions on how the government have spent public money during this Covid pandemic and feel that there have been billions wasted and questions of cronyism need to be answered.
The public overwhelmingly believe the government’s privately run Covid test-and-trace system has been a failure, a new poll has found.
Research by Survation seen by The Independent shows that just 29 per cent of the public think the system has been successful compared to 60 per cent who say it is going badly.
The findings come as the small print of Rishi Sunak’s budget show the system is to get another £15 billion cash injection, bringing its total cost to £37 billion.
Campaigners said the results showed that handing “huge chunks” of the Covid response to the private sector had been a “catastrophic mistake”
The highly negative view of the contact tracing system contrasts with the widespread positive impression of the NHS’s own vaccine roll-out – which was largely conducted in-house.
80 per cent of people say the NHS vaccine drive is going well, compared to just 13 who say it is going badly, the Survation poll, commissioned by Keep Our NHS Public and We Own It found.
The poll found similarly low regard for the sourcing of PPE, which has been dogged with controversy over contracts. 57 per cent of people said this was going badly, and just 33 per cent well.
“This result just goes to show that it is the work of the NHS that is rightly favoured by the British public, and indeed, it is here where the public have seen the most benefit by far,” said Dr John Puntis, Co-Chair of campaign group Keep Our NHS Public.
Meanwhile overnight the RCN created the UK’s largest union strike fund.
The RCN union, which represents 450,000 health care professionals, said an “emergency meeting” was held in the wake of the pay rise proposal, at which members of the RCN Council voted “unanimously” to set up the fund.
As tensions have risen, the Royal College of Nursing has set up a £35m industrial action fund – threatening to take strike action – while another union has urged the public to support a slow hand clap next week mocking the proposals.
Deputy chief executive of NHS Providers Saffron Cordery said: “It is very disappointing that the government has said that a 1% pay rise is all that is affordable when they know that the assumption was that the 2021/22 NHS pay rise would be 2.1% – and that this was covered by the NHS revenue settlement announced by Theresa May in June 2018.
“This settlement was then enshrined in a formal act of parliament, the NHS Funding Act 2020.”
“Some will think that the government is snatching planned pay rises from the pockets of deserving NHS staff so they don’t have to fund the extra costs of COVID-19, which the chancellor personally committed he would meet,” she added.
The Unite union also said it would not rule out asking members about potential strike action.
It is clear the government will not just be facing industrial action from NHS workers but the NHS will have the support of other unions willing to back the strike action and what’s more an entire grateful nation standing behind our NHS workers.
It said the next steps on whether to strike would be decided in conjunction with members and “further announcements will be made in the coming weeks”.