Nurses could quit the NHS to make more money assessing people’s benefits, experts warn as strike looms

It is the first time in the history of the Royal College of Nursing that nurses have been voted on a possible strike - Jonathan Brady/PA

It is the first time in the history of the Royal College of Nursing that nurses have been voted on a possible strike – Jonathan Brady/PA

Nurses could quit the NHS to make more money assessing people’s eligibility for benefits, experts warn, as 300,000 of them voted to strike.

Nurses are working the equivalent of one day a week for free, after a 20% real pay cut hit the sector over the past decade, new analysis revealed on Friday.

Researchers from London Economics, commissioned by the Royal College of Nursing (RCN), have looked at wages in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland since 2010.

Tens of thousands of vacancies

Around 32,000 nurses leave the NHS every year, at least in part because of eroding living standards, leaving tens of thousands of vacancies, the researchers said.

Dr Gavan Conlon, who supervised the research, said nurses were leaving the NHS for better paying jobs.

When asked which private sector jobs nurses turn to, he said: ‘You could go to a website this afternoon and you could find many big companies working on behalf of the Department of Labor and for Pensions (DWP), for example, looking for nurses to become health and disability assessors.

A job advert seen by The Telegraph offers nurses with just one year’s experience up to £44,800 a year to carry out 3-4 assessments a day on behalf of the DWP.

The candidate can work from home part-time, complete the assessment via video and is not required to work weekends, nights or holidays, it says.

First strike ballot

The highest salary a Band 5 nurse can earn is around £32,000 in the NHS, while Band 6 nurses range from £39,000 to £42,000. Group 5 and 6 nurses make up around 30% of the nursing workforce in England, the researchers said.

It comes as the MRC strike ballot is due to end on Wednesday. This is the first time in the College’s history that nurses have been put to a vote on a possible strike.

The union is demanding higher wages and immediate action to tackle the hundreds of thousands of nursing vacancies across the country.

According to the research, experienced nurses in England, Wales and Northern Ireland are set to receive a nominal pay rise of 45% by 2024-25 to restore their real wages to 2010-11 levels.

RCN general secretary Pat Cullen said the government’s offer of a 3 per cent pay rise “makes a difference to a nurse’s pay of 72p an hour”.

But former health secretary Therese Coffey said she was confident the nurses would not get a higher pay offer.

Ms Cullen added: ‘Patients deserve better from their politicians. Although nurses are increasingly working longer hours and doing their best, safe and effective care is compromised by government inaction.

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