There has been considerable interest in the current level of nurses pay in the run up to the General Election on June 8th. Both NHS Scotland and NHS England have had pay cap increases in place (1%) but there is also a considerable impact on the difficulty in repaying student loans, which we will go into more detail on.
When a staff nurse first qualifies they enter the health service as a 'Band 5' - within which there are incremental levels in salary through which a nurse can progress.
At present a newly qualified staff nurse in Scotland (Band 5, Level 1) will have a starting salary of £22,440. In England the Band 5, Level 1 salary starts at £22,128 - a difference of £312.
At the top of the band 5 pay scale a nurse in Scotland will be paid £29,034, whilst in England the highest Band 5 pay rate is £28,747 - a difference of £287.
It must, however, also be remembered that nurses in England and Wales face a considerable financial burden through the cost of training. The Conservative/Lib-Dem coalition introduced the higher cap on tuition fees, meaning that most nurses entering training now face fees up to £9,250 per academic year for a standard 3 year nursing course. That amounts to £27,750 in tuition fees; whilst it is tangible that living costs for three years may equate to a further £15-20,000 of additional debt, meaning total student debts of £45-50,000. The removal of the nursing bursary in England and Wales will no doubt have had a significant impact on this.
In Scotland nursing students do not pay tuition fees, and the nursing bursary remains in place and protected by the Scottish Government, providing over £6,000 in support to nursing students. There is a further £2,400 available to students if they need caring support for children or dependents. This puts significantly less financial pressure on nurses in training and reduces the burden of student debt.
Issues with student debt become even more apparent when nurses qualify and begin working. As the basic nursing salary is above the student loan repayment threshold (currently £17,750pa), newly qualified nurses begin repaying students loans at 9% of salary above the threshold per year.
This would mean repayments of £394.02 for nurses in England for the first year after training, and £422.10 for nurses in Scotland. The difference in the two (£28.08) is still significantly less than the banding level 1 salary differences - £312. A lower burden of debt should also mean that Scottish nurses pay off their student debts faster than their counterparts in England, reducing the long term financial burden than this causes. For 'top tier' nurses at the highest Band 5 pay interval the difference is considerable.
To Summarise; in Scotland newly qualified (Band 5 level 1) nurses are paid £312 more than their English counterparts - many of whom face a much longer period of financial burden of training owing to increasing tuition fees, the loss of the nursing bursary and the lower levels of pay seen in NHS England.
In Scotland the pay of nursing assistants is considerably higher than in England - +£1128 - as the Scottish Government has put more money towards supporting those in lower pay.