Lifting of NHS pay cap in Scotland raises hopes of GP pay increase

The Scottish government will scrap the 1% cap on public sector pay, opening the possibility of real-terms pay increases for GPs next year.

Scottish first minister Nicola Sturgeon (Photo: Douglas Robertson)
Scottish first minister Nicola Sturgeon (Photo: Douglas Robertson)

Setting out the SNP government’s programme for the year ahead first minister Nicola Sturgeon said while the pay cap had been necessary to protect jobs and services, it was ‘not sustainable’ with rising inflation.

‘Our nurses, teachers, police officers and firefighters deserve a fairer deal for the future,’ the first minister said. ‘Indeed the need to recruit the staff that our public services depend on, also demands a new approach.

‘We will therefore aim to secure pay rises from next year that are affordable but which also reflect the real life circumstances our public servants face, and the contribution our public services make to the overall prosperity of country.’

The Scottish government confirmed to GPonline that the new policy would be applied to the GP pay process for 2018.

NHS funding

Ms Sturgeon also announced an at least real-terms funding increase for the NHS as well as a further shift of care and resources into primary care.

The UK-wide pay cap was introduced by the Conservative-Lib Dem coalition in 2013 following a two-year freeze. The Scottish government has previously stuck to the cap.

GPs’ pay is set through a separate process of contract negotiations, which have seen pay capped in line with the 1% cap. GP leaders are currently in the process of negotiating a brand new contract for Scotland.

A government spokesman told GPonline: 'The lifting of the pay cap applies to all staff under the Scottish Government's pay policy remit. We've already made clear that our evidence to the Doctors and Dentists Review Body (DDRB) for 2018 will be in line with this new approach.

'We are currently negotiating a new GP contract which will provide the framework for GP funding and pay from April 2018 onwards.'

Yesterday GPC UK chair Dr Richard Vautrey renewed the call for the cap to be lifted amid speculation governments both sides of the border were preparing to do so.

Pay cap

Press reports suggested Theresa May’s government could lift the cap in England in the autumn budget.

Dr Vautrey said the ‘unjustified’ pay cap had had ‘a significant demoralising impact on NHS staff and its demise is long overdue’.

While many public workers had seen annual 1% pay rises, he said, GPs ‘have not even seen this for many of the last 10 years’.

Dr Vautrey told GPonline: ‘It's no wonder that so many young doctors are put off taking up general practice as a career. This has to be addressed as part of attempts to address the recruitment and retention GP workforce crisis.’

Ms Sturgeon’s announcement has been described as a ‘U-turn’ after the SNP previously opposed a Labour attempt to overturn it for nurses earlier this year. Labour interim leader Alex Rowley welcomed the announcement.

Industrial action

Nurses have threatened industrial action over the pay cap, and Ms Sturgeon faced hostile questions over the policy during the general election campaign.

Elsewhere in her programme Ms Sturgeon announced prmoised to at least a real-terms increase in NHS revenue funding next year, to continue developing the NHS workforce plan, and a safe staffing bill.

The first minster announced a plan to support further shift in care and resources into primary, social and community services.

The government will also expand its prevention work with a new obesity strategy including restrictions on marketing foods high in fat, sugar and salt.

On social care Ms Sturgeon announced a 'Frank's law' to extend free personal care to under 65s.

Dr Peter Bennie, chair of BMA Scotland said: 'The announcement today that the 1% pay cap is to end will be welcome news to frontline staff. Investing in workforce and providing fair terms and conditions must be a priority for any government so that the NHS can attract and retain the staff needed to deliver safe, high-quality patient care.

'The BMA has been warning for some time that without significant additional resources the current model of care is no longer sustainable. In order to maintain services to patients, existing NHS staff are working harder to fill gaps and maintain quality of care but this is not a long term solution to the pressures being faced in our health service. Additional funding will be essential to ease these pressures.'

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