The last few years of pandemic have put significant strain on the NHS, and now, compacted by the cost-of-living crisis it doesn’t look like its going to get any easier. According to Unison (NHS pay (England), 'The big issues', UNISON National, 2022), NHS staff are facing the largest cost-of-living crisis for a generation.
The annual inflation rate is the highest it has ever been since 1982, soaring to a startling 9.1% as of June 16, 2022. With the predicted increase to 11% by the Bank of England (The Guardian, 2022), the spending power for healthcare budgets will be considerably reduced. As a result, the NHS will have less funds available to spend on supplies and other necessities for providing care to its patients.
The 3% pay rise to NHS workers, awarded by the government in part as recognition for the contribution to the pandemic, now pales in comparison to the 9.1% inflation rate. This translates in real-terms to a basic pay cut of approximately £1,700 on average which will likely exacerbate the workforce shortages and financial pressure on NHS households.
Concurrently, fuel prices (unleaded petrol at an average of 173.63 pence per litre and diesel at an average of 187.22 pence per litre) is causing NHS employees to re-evaluate their choice of transportation to work. Adding salt to the wound, several NHS trusts have started charging their employees for parking since the COVID-19 pandemic is quoted to be ‘over’, making it more difficult for NHS employees to get to work while increasing their spending (iNews.co.uk, 'Community nurses 'paying to work' as fuel costs rise above NHS mileage allowance', 2022).
An additional 1.3 million individuals are anticipated to fall into poverty as a result of the fuel crisis alone (Shallcross, 2022). According to Dr Adrian James, president of the Royal College of Psychiatrist, economic pressures are also likely to aggravate health inequalities among both patients and NHS staff, which will be felt for many years to come, particularly for those already living with a mental illness. This will then have a domino effect on pressures facing the NHS to cater to all of the patients and respond swiftly and effectively to the rising demand for healthcare services, which, at this moment in time, the NHS do not have the financial capacity to deliver (Matthew Taylor, Chief Executive of the NHS Confederation, 2022).
Saffron Cordery, interim CEO of NHS Providers, states that “workforce shortages and the resulting unsustainable workload on existing NHS staff is the biggest problem facing the NHS right now”. Due to the current cost-of-living crisis, more NHS staff are unable to afford transportation to work or even be in the right mental or physical state to work, which would result in further workforce shortages and therefore heighten the 110,192 current unfilled full-time NHS jobs further (nhsproviders.org, ‘Measures to help cost of living welcome but pressures on NHS remain’, 2022). A resolution to the staff shortage remains unknown, with Health Secretary Sajid Javid planning no imminent release of additional funding.
Uncertainty still looms over whether the cost-of-living crisis will worsen or ease in the foreseeable future. However, with the expected inflation rate of 11% by the end of 2022, coupled with the ongoing Russian-Ukrainian war and increased energy and fuel prices, spending power is likely to remain reduced. How do we move forward with these cost-of-living concerns? Unfortunately, it doesn’t bode well to hear the recent suggestions made by a UK Minister (news.sky.com, ‘Cost of living crisis’, 2022) to ‘take on more hours’ or make changes to a ‘better-paid job’ to adapt to the cost-of-living surge.