Health care standards in both the private and NHS sectors look set to slip as a major nursing staff shortage looms.
Nursing recruitment is at an all-time low, and the Government’s newly introduced staged pay levels, effective from 1 April 1998, have not been well received.
Newly qualified nurses, after three years training, will now earn £12,635. The changes to payment structures have been met with a barrage of criticism from all sides of the medical profession.
The staging runs counter to a strongly worded request from the pay review bodies to grant the award in full. Nurses had requested a 10 % pay increase in order to realign their payments with comparable service sector jobs. Instead they were given 3.8%, which after the new staging will be 2.6% this year.
Frank Dobson, the Health Secretary, said that the staged payment was being introduced to make the full award more affordable.
Spokeswomen for BUPA and BMI Healthcare said nurses employed in its hospitals are paid similar wages. BUPA refused to give exact figures.
BMI Healthcare, which owns 41 acute care hospitals, said rates for its staff are set at local levels in line with the market rate. Nurses’ salaries are not “substantially higher than their NHS counterparts,” said spokeswoman Carol Friend.
Although private sector nurses are not necessarily paid higher wages, they can still claim better working conditions and employee benefits.
Private hospitals are usually small with fewer beds than the NHS. The resulting higher nurse to patient ratio aids job satisfaction and may provide more opportunities for a community atmosphere.
BMI offers an attractive corporate package for its workforce, including income protection and an annual bonus based on the performance of the hospital.
But the draw of the private sector is not sufficient to eliminate the problem of staff shortages, generally blamed on low pay. Susan Taylor, director of human resources at BMI, attributed the lack to broader issues. “There are less entrants for training,” she said, adding that the trend for nurses to take degrees made them more marketable for other jobs.
Christine Hancock, general secretary of the Royal College of Nurses said: “A second year of below-inflation pay rise for nurses is extremely disappointing and can only deepen the current nurse shortage crisis.”