It’s good news that the nurses have received a pay offer which will hopefully mean no more strikes. They are the last people who should be driven to taking such drastic action. It is shocking, however, that the money for their pay settlement will have to be found from existing NHS budgets at the same time as the Chancellor has announced a £4 billion pension tax giveaway for some of the richest people in the country.
Something needed to be done to stem the early retirement of experienced NHS doctors because of the high levels of tax they’re forced to pay on their pension plans, but the government already has a model for dealing with this. They devised a special deal for judges’ pensions in order to address the same problems with recruitment and retention. They could could easily have made a similar arrangement for doctors. There was no need to offer such a costly proposal, one which goes much wider than the NHS and will benefit very wealthy people at a time when workers across the public sector are struggling after years of wage restraint and falling living standards.
As a former Health Secretary and Chair of the Health Select Committee, this Chancellor should know better than most about the pressures the NHS is facing.
There are tremendous advances taking place in medicine. Last week I visited the Institute for Translational Medicine, housed in the old QE hospital building. I saw some of the amazing research being pursued on our own door step. This, alongside our Birmingham Health Innovation campus, could make the West Midlands, with our stable but ethnically diverse population, a leading centre for advanced medicine. We are on the verge of some amazing breakthroughs but we need a modernised NHS with the resources, energy and talent to take advantage of them. We won’t get that if the government continues to undervalue what is still the NHS’s greatest resource: the workforce.
Last week’s budget could have given our health service a real shot in the arm, instead the Tories have once again opted to reward those who need it least.