Nadhim Zahawi includes extra earnings in figure for nurse ‘starting salary’

6 December 2022
What was claimed

The £1,400 pay award means the starting salary of a nurse is about £31,000.

Our verdict

The £31,000 figure is an estimate including both basic pay and additional earnings like overtime, unsocial hours pay and supplements for those in high cost areas. The basic pay for a newly qualified nurse, not including extra earnings, is £27,055.

“This year the public sector pay review bodies recommended £1,400, which would mean the starting salary of a nurse would hit about £31,000”.

During his media round on Sunday, Conservative Party Chair Nadhim Zahawi MP claimed that the £1,400 pay increase awarded to most NHS staff earlier this year had increased the “starting salary” of a nurse to about £31,000.

Mr Zahawi repeated this claim on BBC’s Sunday With Laura Kuenssberg [16:40] and Sky News’ Ridge on Sunday.

These comments refer to NHS staff in England. Decisions on NHS pay are devolved in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

However, use of the term “starting salary” here is somewhat unclear, and Mr Zahawi has been criticised on social media for his use of the figure, which is higher than the basic pay rate of a newly qualified nurse. 

Nurses’ pay is in the news following the announcement of a nursing strike in the NHS across England, Wales and Northern Ireland. 

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What do newly qualified nurses earn?

In July, the NHS Pay Review Body recommended “a £1,400 consolidated uplift with effect from 1st April 2022 for all AfC [Agenda for Change] staff to their full time equivalent salary.” (Agenda for Change refers to the contract under which most NHS staff, excluding doctors and dentists, are employed.)

This £1,400 uplift applied to the basic pay rates for NHS staff (also referred to in some cases as “basic salary”).

For example, in 2021/22, an NHS employee in England entering Band 5 (the band most new nurses enter at) had a basic pay of £25,655. In 2022/23, this has increased by £1,400 to £27,055.

Where’s the £31,000 from?

We’ve recently written about this £31,000 figure, after health secretary Steve Barclay used it to refer to the amount a newly-qualified nurse would “typically earn” following the pay award, which was implemented in September.

The Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC) has confirmed to Full Fact that this figure is an estimate that includes both basic pay and additional earnings, which covers things like overtime, unsocial hours pay and supplements for those in high cost areas (for example, people who live in London).

This estimate is based on published data from NHS Digital on nurses’ and health visitors’ average basic pay and total earnings in England in 2021/22. 

Mr Zahawi’s description of this £31,000 figure as a “starting salary” is unclear, however if he was referring to basic pay, it would not be correct, as the £31,000 is an estimate of total earnings, not just basic pay. We contacted Mr Zahawi about his use of the figure, but he had not responded at the time of publication.

We've not been able to find a single widely-agreed definition of a nurse's "starting salary", and the terms appears to be used in different ways by different organisations. 

The term “starting salary” has previously been used by NHS Employers as being “made up of basic pay and any unsocial hours payment and/or any long-term recruitment and retention premium (RRP).”

This definition does not appear to include extra earnings such as paid overtime, which are included in the DHSC calculations for the £31,000 figure.

The government has previously used “starting salary” to refer to basic pay only. Announcing a 2.8% pay increase for NHS England staff in 2020, it said that since the 2017/18 financial year “we have increased the starting salary for a newly qualified nurse by over 12%”.

This refers to the basic pay of a newly-qualified nurse, which increased in cash terms by 12.6% between 2017/18 and 2020/21.

The government also spoke of an “average nurses’ salary” when referring to basic pay in its announcement of this year’s pay offer for NHS staff.

Image courtesy of Chris McAndrew

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