Rishi Sunak today claimed he would ‘love’ to ‘wave a magic wand’ and give nurses pay rises to match inflation.
The Prime Minister, however, claimed it would be ‘the wrong thing to do’ amid the cost of living crisis.
No10 is under pressure to end the endless wave of public sector strikes – with millions of teachers set to wreak havoc this week, as the NHS prepares for its biggest ever walkout on Monday.
But Mr Sunak claimed that while it would “make my life easier” to pay NHS staff more, further inflation would be a “vicious circle”.
Rishi Sunak, pictured at Teeside University in Darlington, claimed he would ‘love’ to ‘wave a magic wand’ and give nurses pay rises to match inflation, but that would be ‘the wrong thing to do “.
The Prime Minister, pictured at North Tees University Hospital, is under increasing pressure to end the wave of public sector strikes, with a new round of NHS walkouts set for next week
The calendar shows planned strike dates among NHS staff in the coming months
Speaking to an audience of health workers in Darlington today, Mr Sunak was asked: ‘When are you actually going to pay nurses properly?’
He said: “I wish – nothing would make me happier – than to wave a magic wand and you all pay a whole lot more.”
But he argued it was “not an easy task” to balance many competing interests for government funding.
Officials previously claimed that every 1% pay rise for NHS staff would amount to £700m.
The RCN is asking for a salary increase of 18.4%, based on the current rate of inflation. This would see the average salary for nurses rise from £37,000 to £43,800.
But the union has repeatedly said it will meet ministers in the middle, which will see the average salary rise to £40,400.
Mr Sunak added: “When we’ve had periods of high inflation, what’s happened in the past is everyone said, ‘OK, inflation was 15 per cent, we should all get paid 15%” and then you have kind of a vicious circle that you never recover from.
“That would be the wrong thing to do.
He also argued that tax hikes would make life harder for healthcare workers.
For the first time in history, tens of thousands of members of the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) went on strike last month amid the energy and cost of living crisis – while demanding a better patient safety.
Similar calls have been made by paramedics and physiotherapists.
Tens of thousands of nurses and paramedics will be discharged on February 6, causing huge disruption to the struggling health service.
This means hospitals will be forced to cancel routine appointments and operations.
But some nurses are struggling to feed themselves and their families because of the crisis, unions say.
Staff at the Royal Bolton Hospital receive special breakfast baskets as part of a cost-of-living program on a bespoke basis.
The hospital’s director of workforce, James Mawrey, said the food parcels had been “extremely well received”, but only by a small number of people, and that it hope others who need help will come forward to take advantage of the program.
Members of the Royal College of Nursing on the picket line earlier this month outside Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital, Norwich
Mr Sunak claimed that while it would “make my life easier” to pay NHS staff more, further inflation would be a “vicious circle”.
Royal Bolton Hospital – where staff facing financial hardship receive breakfast baskets as part of a ‘cost of living’ scheme
Mr Mawrey added: ‘There’s a little more work to do there in terms of attendance, but that’s okay because he’s there to really help people who need that help.’
“And we really wanted to do it very discreetly.”
The hospital also distributes vouchers, offering financial wellness advice and guidance and additional occupational health support.
The next round of nurse outings are scheduled for next Monday and Tuesday.
Unions representing paramedics and physiotherapists also want wage increases above inflation, but have not specified a figure.
The government says the demands are unaffordable and pay rises are decided by independent pay review bodies.