This morning, Dr Louise Irvine was interviewed by BBC Radio 5. Formal notice of a strike by NHS workers has been issued ahead of crucial talks over possible strike action next Thursday. Unions representing ambulance and hospital workers across England and Northern Ireland have criticised ministers for not accepting a recommended 1% pay increase for all staff. Yesterday, Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt held a Cobra meeting to discuss contingency plans.
BBC Radio 5: Let’s talk now to Dr Louise Irvine from the National Health Action Party. She is also a prospective candidate for South West Surrey which is in fact the Health Secretary’s seat. Good morning to you.
BBC Radio 5: It would seem we are edging ever closer to strike action, which is not a good state of affairs, given the pressure the NHS and especially A&E is under at the moment. Do you back workers in this move towards that?
Dr Louise Irvine: Yes. I do actually. You have to think, what does it take to make dedicated staff like this contemplate strike action? A couple of months ago, midwives went on strike for the very first time ever. They are desperate. Some of the lowest paid workers, many NHS staff staff actually require in-work benefits. And, in fact, because of the low inflation, pay rises over the last five years have amounted to an 11% real-term cut in their pay. I think this government is being irresponsible because one of the aspects of this crisis facing the NHS is very stressed out, very demoralised staff who are leaving in droves, very difficult to recruit and they don’t even honour the 1% pay deal recommended by the pay review body. What does that say about how we value our NHS staff?
BBC Radio 5: It is controversial, isn’t it, because this is the same independent pay review body that recommended MPs should get a 10% pay rise and they did. So, people are saying why can’t nurses get 1%? Why can’t hospital workers get that? However, they did get this internal rise, which everybody gets on different terms. You are rewarded if you get extra skills, or if you have had a long service so, there is a rise that they have access to. It is not true to say there is nothing.
Dr Louise Irvine: This is a rise with seniority, with experience and you have to demonstrate you are developing new skills, often having to go on training courses to develop those. So, this is what most people would expect with rising experience. Those at the top of the pay band don’t get those experiential rises. I think we are confusing two things. People still need a cost of living rise, whatever level of pay they are getting. If your rise is less than inflation, that is in effect a pay cut. It is hardly ameliorated by a possible incremental rise. In fact, the overall income is actually dropping for NHS staff.
BBC Radio 5: What do you do when there is no money? We know just simply by opening the newspapers and switching on the TV and looking at the NHS on a daily basis, we know how much strain this system is under. If you find the money for this pay rise, you are obviously not putting it in somewhere else where it is needed to create more bed space, to create more fluidity in the system.
Dr Louise Irvine: I would question whether there is no money. It is a political decision not to fund the NHS adequately. There has been a steady rising demand in NHS service of about 1% 0r 3% a year which actually reflects a rising population and changing demographics. We, as one of the richest countries in the world, which spends the least of the G7 countries on our health service, we spend less than 14 other developed countries on our NHS, we are actually having a lower percentage of our GDP being spent on the NHS. There is money. If we were to look at where money is not being used wisely, we’ve just an amazingly expensive and wasteful and ineffectual top down reorganisation that’s cost about £3bn and everybody agrees was a huge mistake. We are wasting a lot of money on things like the Private Finance Initiative, on the tendering and privatisation process, on expensive consultancies. Let’s look at where money is not being spent properly. And yet, it would only cost about £500mn to pay our NHS staff what they need to reward them for their work.
BBC Radio 5: It’s an awful lot of money when you don’t have any.
Dr Louise Irvine: First of all I think we do have money. It is not being spent properly. It is a political decision where that money is spent and how much money is spent on our NHS. We have plenty of money when it comes to other things, like finding the money to bomb another country.
BBC Radio 5: Dr Louise Irvine, thank you for joining us. That’s Dr Louise Irvine from the National Health Action Party.