Nurses in scores of trusts across the UK have launched a historic strike – the largest ever nurses’ strike and the first time the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) in England, the largest union representing nurses, has voted to strike. Nurses in Northern Ireland took action in 2019.
NHS nurses are a critical part of a health system under huge strain from the Covid-19 pandemic, financial pressures and increased demand from a growing and ageing population. A key element of their concern relates to pay: the government adopted the independent Pay Review Body’s recommendations this year, which typically means a £1,400 uplift to pay levels for nurses and other staff on the ‘Agenda for Change’ contract. The RCN is asking for a pay increase of 5% above the RPI rate of inflation.
But the reasons for the strike action are complex. To help understand the reasons nurses have voted to strike, it is helpful to look at some key statistics that demonstrate the composition of nursing staff in the UK and how they are compensated for their work. Read the summary below, and download the slide pack of facts and figures.
The average nurse salary has not kept pace with inflation, or with wage increases from the private sector.
Typical salaries for nurses have fallen by 5.9% in real terms compared to 2010/11 levels.
Depending on how inflation changes, we predict that nurses’ real-terms pay this year will fall to around 10% below levels in 2010/11.
The average nurse in England earned around £35,989 a year prior to the latest pay settlement.
Nurses in the UK are generally paid less than in similar English-speaking countries, such as Australia or the USA.
There are an estimated average of 17,000 nursing posts unfilled on any given day in the NHS.
1 in 9 nurses left active service over the course of a year between 2021 and 2022 in England.
Roughly half (51%) of all nurses working in hospital and community services in England work in trusts affected by strike action.
When nurses strike, they will not be paid their regular salary, but will receive £50 per day from the RCN.
There are around 330,000 full time equivalent nurses in England, 60,900 in Scotland, 22,900 in Wales and 15,900 in Northern Ireland.
1 in 9 NHS nurses in England left active service in the year to June 2022 (40,365 nurses). A similar proportion (one in nine) left their roles in Scotland (7,470 in year to March 2022). A survey from the RCN found that feeling undervalued, being under too much pressure, or feeling exhausted were the most common reasons why nurses think of leaving.
There are around 46,800 nursing vacancies in England as of June 2022. Some of these were filled with temporary (bank or agency) staff. However, when including other reasons for shortfalls, such as sickness and absences for other reasons, we estimate some 17,000 posts went unfilled on any given day.
While over 44,500 nurses joined the NHS in England (8,680 in Scotland) in the year to June 2022 –a record number – this is not enough to meet targets or fill vacancies.
The average nurse salary has not kept pace with inflation, or with wage increases from the private sector, for over a decade now. Before the new pay settlement, typical salaries for nurses had fallen by 5.9% in real terms compared to 2010/11 levels – this compares to a 0.6% real-terms increase in private sector pay over the same period. Depending on how inflation changes over the remainder of the year, we predict that nurses’ real-terms pay this year will fall to around 10% below levels in 2010/11.
The starting basic salary for nurses in England and Wales is £27,055. This has increased by more than inflation since 2012/13. It is higher than the average graduate starting salary, which ranges from £24,000 to £26,999.
The average annual NHS earnings of a nurse in England (in the year to March 2022 (i.e. prior to the new pay settlement) was £35,989, including those working part-time. The full-time equivalent average salary is around £39,900 or £40,500 depending on how you calculate it.
If nurses' pay had kept up with inflation, the average nurse would be earning an additional £2,500 a year. We estimate this may rise to £4,800 in 2022/23 depending on how inflation changes in the coming months.