Tory minister in car crash interview over NHS pay row

Health Minister Helen Whately appeared not to know how pay review bodies worked

Helen Whatley

A Tory minister endured a car crash interview on Sky News today, as she sought to defend the government over NHS salaries.

Health Minister Helen Whately appeared not to know how pay review bodies worked, as she insisted that Prime Minister Rishi Sunak needed to be responsible with public finances amid a row over the pay of junior doctors.

Junior doctors announced another five days of strike action for July, in what is believed to be the longest single walkout in NHS history. Pay has decreased by more than a quarter since 2008 when inflation is taken into account – and many doctors are burnt out from an increasing workload, according to the BMA.

Appearing on Sky News earlier today, Whately was asked whether the government would accept the pay review bodies’ recommended salary increase for the health sector workers.

Public sector pay review bodies are expected to release their advised pay increase recommendations next month, possibly suggesting up to 6% increase for health workers. It’s been reported that Sunak intends to reject the pay recommendations.

Presenter Kay Burley said: “Pay review bodies take direction from government budgets, don’t they?

“So you tell them how much money is available and the prime minister chooses the chairman of the pay review boards?”

Whatley said she did not know the exact process of the appointment of the chairman of the review boards, before Burley hit back: “Well they do. The PM chooses the chairman of the pay review board.

“And then, the government tells the pay review boards what the upper limits are of the budgets and then they say, ‘OK, as a result, 6% for nurses and doctors, and 6.5% for teachers,’ or whatever it might be.”

Whately insisted that the government had to make ‘responsible decisions’, to which she was asked if there was any point in having the pay review bodies if they were just going to be ignored.

Later on, Burley said: “When your colleagues – and indeed you – have sat there previously, and we’ve talked about percentage pay increase, you’ve always said we have to abide by what the independent pay review bodies suggest to us.”

“I don’t believe that is what we’ve always said,” Whately replied.

Burley said: “Even though the chairman is chosen by the prime minister and you tell them what the budgets are? What’s the point?”

Basit Mahmood is editor of Left Foot Forward

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