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National NHS pay deals cost lives

4th February 2008

The Economist argues that national pay settlements are costing lives in the NHS.

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Imposing uniform rates of pay across the NHS in England are creating the type of postcode lottery that centralised control of the organisation was intended to avoid.

Researchers from Bristol University and the London School of Economics have examined the impact of this and how it affects medical care, focussing particularly on nurses.

It highlighted how the pay structure fails to take into account regional pay variations, pointing out that from1996-97 to 2001-02 a nurse in London was paid 10% more than the national rate at a time that women in the capital earned 65% more than in the north-east.

It is a rigid pay policy that “makes it easy for the NHS to recruit and keep good nurses in poorer northern regions but hard to hire and retain them in the richer south.?

Northern hospitals have stable pools of nurses, those in the south rely on expensive agency staff that are often less productive. Consequently, there is a strong link between this and death rates.

The strain on the system eased in the south following larger pay increases but with future pay awards being restrained, that situation is likely to re-emerge.

Regional differences in prosperity have widened under Labour, a strong reason for the government to stop treating the country “as if it were economically uniform.?

The government, and the NHS, should not be so insistent on three-year wage deals. It should instead look at a system which permits variations in public-service pay.

 

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