Christmas and New Year should be a time of cheer and happiness but for many NHS workers in Somerset, a failed government promise of a 6% pay increase will heap more misery on an already overworked and stretched workforce.
In July last year, the government announced funding would be made available to implement a 6% pay increase for all GPs and practice staff, backdated to April 2023. However, Symphony Healthcare Services, an NHS contractor operating GP surgeries primarily in Somerset and Devon, have conceded that the “funds are not available” and that there are “no other ‘pots’ to call upon” to implement the much needed pay increase for staff.
Despite this broken promise, announced over Christmas, Rishi Sunak stated on BBC Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg (7/1/2024), stating that all NHS pay disputes were resolved, apart from the current Junior Doctors strikes.
Symphony, who operate Burnham and Berrow Medical Centre, Highbridge Medical Centre and North Petherton Surgery, have said they will not be able to offer the promised 6% increase to many of its staff due to a lack of funding from the government, accusing them of ‘ambiguous’ messaging when the pay increase was first announced in July 2023.
In a communication to staff on December 14, 2023, Symphony Healthcare Services said: “In October 2023, the details of the increase in funding were clarified and it was apparent that the July communication was somewhat ambiguous. All avenues to fund the shortfall have been explored but regrettably the organisation cannot afford to make any further pay increases – the funds are simply not available and there are no other ‘pots’ to call upon.”
Symphony handed its workers a minimum 2.5% pay increase in April 2023 which, in many instances, ensured staff would not fall below the National Minimum Wage threshold in England. The latest revelations are yet another setback for NHS workers, who have been once again let down by the Conservative government reneging on its promises.
Symphony said that in the subsequent details released by government in October on how the promised 6% pay increase would be met, the ‘additional funding’ included the increase in funding that was provided in April 2023.
The update from Symphony to its staff added: “This meant that the total increase in funding only just covered the pay increases that had already been passed on in April. Furthermore, once the contractual 6% pay increase to GPs in factored in, Symphony has used up more than the additional funding provided.”
Claire Sully, the Liberal Democrat parliamentary candidate for the new Bridgwater Constituency, has decried yet another failure of the Conservative government to follow through on pay promises made to NHS staff.
“We cannot trust this Conservative government to deliver what it has promised on the NHS,” Claire said. “This latest failed promise wrapped in Conservative party spin will heap misery and uncertainty on many NHS staff at a time we look for optimism and comfort over Christmas and into the New Year.
“The Conservative government is dismantling our doctors’ surgeries from the inside, through the erosion of workforce pay and conditions which has resulted in a proliferation of staff vacancies, an overstretched workforce and a lack of available appointments for patients.
“If elected as your MP for Bridgwater, the provision of NHS services and GP surgeries will be a top priority with primary care a service which must be fixed.”
Claire has continued to campaign for improved NHS provision and pay and conditions for its staff. Earlier this month, Claire and many supporters undertook a run from Somerset Bridge Medical Centre to East Quay Medical Centre in Bridgwater in order to highlight the severe funding issues in our NHS caused by years of Conservative neglect.