Are doctors getting an above-inflation pay rise?

6 October 2023
What was claimed

Doctors have been offered an above inflation pay award.

Our verdict

Whether this is correct depends on which doctors are included and which measurement of inflation is used. The pay award for junior doctors of between 8.1% and 10.3% is higher than April‘s CPIH inflation rate of 7.8%. But this is lower than the RPI inflation rate of 11.4% that month. Meanwhile, consultants received a 6% pay rise, which is below both RPI and CPIH.

Doctors are choosing to strike, and what I would say to them is, we've offered you an above inflation award.

The chancellor Jeremy Hunt has claimed that striking doctors have been offered an above-inflation pay rise.

But the union representing doctors, the British Medical Association (BMA), posted on X (formerly Twitter) that he was “grossly misleading” the public because the pay award was below the Retail Price Index (RPI) inflation rate.

The BMA Consultants account posted: “RPI was 11.4% in April. The pay award was 6%.”

Whether doctors were given an above-inflation pay rise depends on which doctors you look at and what measure of inflation you choose.

Junior doctors received an above-inflation pay rise if you use the CPIH (the Consumer Prices Index including owner occupiers’ housing costs) measure, but not if you use RPI. Consultants' pay rise was below inflation using either measure. 

The BMA told us that its tweet had just been referencing consultant pay. 

Health policy is devolved so the UK Government’s pay offer was only applicable to doctors in England.

Statistics on their own have limitations and the way they are presented is crucial to how they are interpreted and understood by the public. If data is presented without context or caveats, it can give an incomplete or misleading picture.

Honesty in public debate matters

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Have doctors been given an above inflation pay rise?

While appearing on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Mr Hunt did not say which doctors he was referring to or which measure of inflation he was using. Both junior doctors and consultants have taken part in recent strikes, including joint industrial action coinciding with the Conservative party conference.

When Full Fact contacted the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) and Treasury we were told he appeared to be using the CPIH.

The DHSC announced in July that junior doctors’ pay will be increased by 6% plus £1,250, which would be backdated to April.

The department said that pay for junior doctors will therefore be uplifted by between 8.1% and 10.3% depending on what stage of their training they are at, with an 8.8% rise on average.

The Office for National Statistics’ (ONS) CPIH inflation figure for April 2023 was 7.8%–the month the pay award was backdated to. 

The RPI rate for April was 11.4%, as the BMA said.

So whether junior doctors were given an above-inflation pay rise appears to depend on which measure of inflation you choose to use.

The DHSC has also said that consultants will receive a 6% pay increase.

This pay rise for consultants is below both the RPI and CPIH rates of inflation for April 2023. 

The BMA told us that while its X post had been referring to consultants, all doctors had received a pay award below the RPI rate.

A spokesperson added: “For all doctors this year’s pay award in England was below RPI, the measure which best reflects our members’ living costs. The Government itself uses RPI to calculate interest on our members’ student loans and it’s also used to calculate rises in utility bills. On all measures of inflation the 6% award was a real-terms cut for consultants.”

Different inflation measures

Consumer inflation is measured by taking a sample ‘shopping basket’ of goods and services and monitoring how the total price changes each month. CPIH shows the overall change in the price of the basket as well as price changes for certain goods and services, such as clothing, food, transport and healthcare, and also adds  housing costs associated with owning a home. RPI includes housing costs such as council tax, mortgage payments and insurance. 

It is worth noting that the RPI inflation measure has been criticised by some economic experts including the UK Statistics Authority, who have suggested it “is not fit for purpose”. The Institute for Fiscal Studies has argued that CPIH is a better measure although it may be the “best of a bad bunch”. The Office for National Statistics describes CPIH as “the most comprehensive measure of inflation” and warns that RPI “and its derivatives have been assessed against the Code of Practice for Official Statistics and found not to meet the required standard for designation as National Statistics”.

However RPI is generally supported by many unions, and some other experts have said that alternative measures have weaknesses when it comes to measuring changes in the cost of living.

Image courtesy of the House of Commons.

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