Leader comment: A pay rise is not a panacea for NHS' ills

Politicians appear to have finally got the message that the NHS is in dire trouble and the public will not stand for the loss of this much-loved British institution.
Most NHS staff are to get a nine per cent pay rise over three years (Picture: Greg Macvean)Most NHS staff are to get a nine per cent pay rise over three years (Picture: Greg Macvean)
Most NHS staff are to get a nine per cent pay rise over three years (Picture: Greg Macvean)

Last week, Theresa May announced the NHS in England would get an extra £20 billion a year by 2023 and now Scottish Health Secretary Shona Robison has unveiled a nine per cent pay rise over three years for most NHS workers. The increase would “help make our NHS an attractive employment option for many”, she said.

The extra money will undoubtedly shift the balance between the pros and cons of a career in the health service. Working in hospitals, GP surgeries and health centres seems to be becoming increasingly stressful, so NHS staff are among the most deserving of a greater reward for their routinely sterling efforts.

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The pay rise was welcomed by opposition politicians with the Scottish Conservatives claiming credit was due to the UK Government, while Labour called for a “longer term agreement that restores the value of pay and rewards our amazing NHS staff”. No one mentioned the absence of a magic money tree.

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Scottish Government to give NHS staff nine per cent pay rise

But, in the latest sign of just how unwell the NHS has become, a survey of 1,000 GPs found just three per cent felt NHS Scotland had adequate resources, while 88 per cent agreed that without substantial extra funds the health service would be unable to provide “comprehensive care” within a decade.

It appears the NHS – in both Scotland and England – has found itself caught in a vicious downward spiral in which the stresses of a life-and-death job have been exacerbated by staff shortages and rising demand, prompting others to leave or choose to work part-time.

So while those staff still soldiering on deserve their pay rise, working conditions also need to be improved. People who go into the ‘caring professions’ could often make more money elsewhere, but choose their career based in part on altruistic attitudes, a desire to make a difference, to live a worthy life. If a nurse is too busy to care for a patient in a humane way – perhaps beyond what is strictly necessary in a medical sense – disillusionment may set in as such noble ambitions succumb to reality.

Democracy appears to be working as politicians respond to the public’s concerns. But there is still much to do to ease the pressure threatening an institution at the heart of British life.