GPs warn pay freeze cannot underpin NHS savings drive

MPs have said that pay freezes for doctors and other NHS staff are not sustainable and must not be relied on to produce savings in NHS expenditure.

BMA: pay freezes not sustainable
BMA: pay freezes not sustainable

The warning in a House of Commons health select committee report on public expenditure on health and social care came as the Doctors and Dentists Review Body (DDRB) advice on GP pay goes before ministers.

The BMA has asked for a net pay increase in line with inflation as a minimum.

The most recent inflation figure was 2%, but in its evidence to the DDRB, NHS England called for pay rises to be capped at 1% in line with government policy on public sector pay.

The BMA has argued that a rise in GP expenses, allied with the government cap on public sector salaries, has effectively delivered a pay cut to GPs.

In evidence to the select committee, health secretary Jeremy Hunt admitted that capping pay for NHS staff was not a long-term solution to the heath service’s financial problems.

‘We have to be even more imaginative in finding other ways to make efficiency savings because we cannot constantly rely on the kind of pay restraint that we have had to date,' he told the committee.

The select committee report, which focuses on how the NHS can achieve the 4% year-on-year efficiency gains demanded by the government, welcomed Mr Hunt’s recognition that the future of the health and care system cannot be built on ‘an open-ended pay freeze’.

The report says: ‘If the health and care system is to be a good employer (which it needs to be if it is to deliver high quality care) it needs to undertake transformative change in order to ensure that its committed staff are better able to meet the needs of users of its services.’

GPC chairman Dr Chaand Nagpaul welcomed the select committee’s findings. ‘I’m glad the committee has concluded that a pay freeze is short-termist and counter-productive and not the way to address financial challenges in the NHS,’ he said.

‘In recent years GPs have suffered an effective pay cut and not just the pay freeze for other staff in the NHS, and the DDRB have been made aware of this.

‘The government needs to recognise that valuing its workforce and providing appropriate recompense is the key to getting greater productivity from GPs, which will benefit patients and the NHS.’

BMA chairman Dr Mark Porter said: ‘We have seen real-terms cuts to pay for the vast majority of doctors, dressed up as efficiency savings.

‘While we all know that health providers face year-on-year cuts, the continued erosion of doctors’ pay as the main tool to cope with increasing demand has only highlighted the government’s failure to find a meaningful and sustainable solution to the funding crisis facing the NHS’.

The select committee report also called on NHS England and the Local Government Association to determine how health and wellbeing boards should take the lead role in consolidating the commissioning of integrated health and social care.

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