Staff at a hospital where Matt Hancock’s grandmother worked as a nurse say they feel insulted by the government’s offer of a 1% pay rise after their work during the pandemic.
Last Friday the health secretary tried to deflect anger about the pay offer by saying he understood the hard work of nurses as his grandmother had worked at the Pilgrim hospital in Boston, Lincolnshire.
“I bow to nobody in my admiration of nurses,” he said, “in fact I learned that at the knee of my grandmother, who was a nurse and worked nights at the Pilgrim hospital at Boston.”
But staff at the hospital told the Guardian on Monday they felt “disgusted” by the 1% pay increase offered by Hancock and his colleagues. “It adds insult to injury,” said Margaret*, a health care assistant at the hospital.
Hancock has frequently cited his grandmother as an inspiration, posting family photos of him with her as a child on Instagram and film clips of himself at the hospital she worked on Twitter.
But working at the same hospital as Hancock’s relative had done nothing to cushion the blow of the pay offer – a real terms cut in income – for Margaret. “She wouldn’t be impressed and neither am I,” she said. “They need people to come into nursing but people are already leaving and this is just going to make it worse.”
Ida, another health care assistant who was on a cigarette break with Margaret, said: “It was all clap, clap, clap at the beginning and now they’re stabbing us in the back.” Asked what pay rise health workers should get, she said: “Even £1 an hour more would be something.”
About half a dozen Conservative MPs expressed disquiet about the pay offer during an urgent question on the issue in the Commons on Monday, with the Brigg and Goole MP Andrew Percy urging ministers to “make every effort to go further than what has so far been recommended”.
Robert Halfon, the MP for Harlow, told the care minister, Helen Whately – who was responding for the government in place of Matt Hancock – that there should be some recognition for staff who had put their “health and lives at risk” in the pandemic: “Will she reconsider and at least propose a larger increase for lower-paid NHS workers?”
Boris Johnson has insisted he is “massively grateful” to the NHS but that the pay offer is as much as the government could afford, an argument scoffed at by staff at Pilgrim hospital. “They have wasted so much money on other things. Test and trace has been a shambles,” said Ida. Debs, who joined the group mid-conversation, said: “Tell Boris Johnson to come and see me and say he’s grateful.”
Gavin, a paramedic at the hospital, said Johnson should be grateful to the NHS for saving his life when he was admitted to hospital with Covid. “But he needs to pull his finger out and do something about it, because 1% is a laugh in your face,” he said. “I can guarantee MPs are going to give themselves another big pay rise.”
Standing by an ambulance outside the hospital, Gavin said: “Staff will leave because the nurses here can get double what they get here working on agency … Morale is very low. People are worn out.”
Dr H Ahmed said staff at the hospital had made huge sacrifices during the pandemic. “You have to see it to believe how bad it has been – colleagues dying and getting unwell. We definitely deserve more, especially those on the frontline.”
“They could give us a bonus or pay us for all the overtime we have put in at a proper rate. That would put some money in people’s pockets and make them happier without other public services feeling left out.”
Dan, a cleaner who takes about £1,000 a month after tax, like many at the hospital, would not give his full name, saying “management don’t like us blabbing too much”.
“Everyone is just fed up,” he added. “We all need a boost. We got Christmas cards from Captain Tom, but they didn’t arrive until January. It was a nice thought, but it was a bit late and with all that money they could have spent it on something else.”
Asked if the government would perform another U-turn on the issue, Dan said: “I think the government will cave in. I’m sure Boris will give a little bit more, maybe 3%.”
*Some names have been changed