We need more than just clapping

By John Forsyth

Published 17/08/20


The Covid-19 pandemic has exposed many problems in our health and social care services, and taken a terrible toll on the staff who have risen so honourably to the challenge. We understand that 540 health workers in England died of the virus between 9 March and 25 May (ONS); many health staff are tired, traumatised or demoralised; and a recent survey suggests that over one-third of nurses are thinking of leaving the profession, citing pay and pandemic as main reasons. However, the Government has held pay rises for nurses and other lower paid staff in the NHS to the 2018 agreement for 2020/21 which typically awarded 1.65% compared to a loss of real earnings over the previous 10 years of 20%, and has just awarded only 2.8% to doctors. Social care workers, employed by care homes, domiciliary care providers, and agencies receive no special attention to pay; many are dependent on foundation living wage levels, and are often on part-time or zero hours contracts.

The Government has committed itself to a major structural review of the social care sector, and we will have to wait to see how much attention it pays to training, pay and conditions for staff, but it already signalled that it will be looking for “pay restraint” across the public sector from now on. Meanwhile, workers in health and social care are being primed for many more months of pandemic, a significant risk of a large “second wave” this winter, and a huge backlog of “normal” work. All this in the context of a health service in Cornwall which already had a high level of staff vacancies and difficulties in recruiting sufficient numbers of staff at all levels.

While we all stood and clapped in our support for these workers, it is clear that much more needs to be done to say “thank you”, to reflect the enormous efforts and risks that they took this year, and to help build an effective, sustainable health and social care system. We in West Cornwall Health Watch believe that it is entirely appropriate, in fact essential, that a decent settlement is made, immediately, for registered nurses, nursing support workers, midwives, radiographers, porters and domestic staff, physiotherapists, care home workers, domiciliary care workers – indeed, for all those who look after us in health and care.

Within the NHS, this settlement should include:

• A wage “bonus” for 2020

• A commitment to significant increase to grade or band wage levels in future years

• Permanent elimination of car parking charges for staff at all sites

• Extension of hours and provision of free childcare provision

Within social care, we want to see:

• Funding provided to Cornwall Council and direct into the sector sufficient to support proper recruitment, training and remuneration for all staff, and providing an immediate bonus to care workers

• Enhancement of the “Ethical Care Charter” which Cornwall Council signed up to, which supports the foundation living wage, protects the rights of workers and supports training, sick pay and other conditions of service – and Extension of the Charter across all parts of the health and social care system in Cornwall.

Across both sectors, we would like to see:

• funded development of the Cornwall initiative for joint training opportunities and career paths for nursing in health and social care

• fully funded increased capacity for training for qualifications throughout the sectors

• Inclusion of health and social care occupations at all levels as “shortage occupations” in the new points-based visa system, and deletion of any visa charges for these workers

• Permanent deletion of the Immigration Health Surcharge (due to rise to £624 per adult in October 2020) for all health and social care workers

• Guaranteed capacity for full provision of PPE to all sites 

• Adedicated Cornwall capacity for immediate and frequent Covid-19 testing of all workers, along with all patients, in health and social cares sectors.