The Department of Health and Social Care has missed the deadline for submitting evidence on next year’s pay award for more than a million NHS staff, MPs have been told.
Former health minister Steve Brine, who is now chair of the House of Commons’ Health and Social Care Committee, said he was “astonished” that the Department had missed the deadline.
But the Treasury has submitted evidence, MPs were told.
Meanwhile, the chair of the NHS Pay Review Body said that the process by which the group advises the Government on remuneration for more than a million NHS staff “feels independent”.
It comes as the NHS is about to experience almost a week of strikes as part of the ongoing dispute between health unions and the Government over pay.
Philippa Hird, chair of the NHS Pay Review Body (PRB), told MPs in the last two years the body’s remit letters have come at the end of November which “means it is impossible for us to report in time for any awardee to be paid on April 1”.
She added: “The Government evidence, it was due on January 11.
“A couple of days before that I wrote to the minister to reiterate the importance of the deadline, and he wrote back straight away confirming that he understood the importance of the deadline.”
She added: “We’re carrying on working with our current timetable and we’re not at the moment planning to put anything back. We are aiming to report by the end of April 2023.
“I’m still expecting evidence from the Government – if it doesn’t come, we will cross that bridge when we come to it.”
Mr Brine said: “I saw it in the notes beforehand, that the Government hadn’t responded by the time of the session – so, 21 days after the deadline.
“I am astonished that you have been able to confirm that today.
“Having spent all the holiday season, since the remit letter, standing behind the Pay Review Body to then not respond to it by the date that you asked for…”
Ms Hird replied: “We are carrying on with our work. I have already written to the minister to express my concern about the deadline, we are carrying on doing what we do.
“We are being as flexible as we can be in order to make sure we get our report done on time.
“All the pay review bodies have had treasury evidence, it’s not that we haven’t heard from this Government, it is just that we don’t have evidence from the Department of Health.”
Asked whether the NHS Pay Review Body is “outdated” and still a “truly fair system for health workers”, Ms Hird said: “The process we go through to gather evidence from all parties – in which we consider evidence, in which we bring in evidence from other other places – feels like a very independent process.
“We don’t (always) agree with the Government on affordability considerations, and have recommended, on occasions, higher levels because we haven’t accepted the affordability constraints.
“We listen hard to a very, very wide range of voices and we come up with a body of evidence that informs debate.
“Generally, we come up with a number in any one year, and with what I hope are a series of recommendations about investment in pay that are heard.”
Health Secretary Steve Barclay told the committee: “I know the evidence… has been delayed slightly, but that is so we could take on board the representations of the trade unions and have those further discussions not just within health but across other departments as well, and that’s been very much a cross-government initiative.”
Asked about the delay, he said: “There’s a reason and a very constructive reason for that, which is, as the Prime Minister said a few weeks ago, we didn’t want to take anything off the table, we wanted to have further engagement with trade union colleagues.
“I had those discussions, along with the Minister of State for Health on behalf of the Department of Health and Social Care, but they were also taking place across the departments.
“So whilst (we) completed ours, some time ago, there’s been a need to wait for other departments to also have those discussions, that is a cross-government process coordinated by the Treasury.
“And once the Treasury is happy for the department to submit, then obviously, we’re ready to do so.”
Commenting on the news, Sara Gorton, head of health at the union Unison, said: “After promising everyone a quicker pay review body process, the Secretary of State’s own department failed to get its evidence in on time earlier this month.
“Ministers must stop fobbing the public off with promises of a better NHS, while not lifting a finger to solve the staffing emergency staring them in the face.
“The Government must stop playing games. Rishi Sunak wants the public to believe ministers are doing all they can to resolve the dispute. They’re not.”
The NHS Pay Review Body is responsible for making recommendations on the pay of all staff paid under the Agenda for Change contract.
Their recommendations cover all staff employed in the NHS across the UK, but they do not make recommendations on the pay for doctors, dentists and very senior managers.
Earlier in January, some 14 unions said they were to boycott the PRB process until the current dispute was resolved.
The unions, representing more than one million ambulance staff, nurses, porters, healthcare assistants, physiotherapists and other NHS workers in England, said they would not submit evidence for the next pay round and instead called for direct talks with ministers.
They said that the deadline for submitting evidence for the 2022/23 pay year was the end of last January, but it was almost six months later when ministers made public their acceptance of the review body’s £1,400 flat-rate rise.
By then inflation had “gone through the roof”, they said.