Thousands of NHS staff could quit to work in supermarkets and coffee shops if they are not paid more, Britain’s biggest trade union has warned.
Unison said that without a significant improvement to their wages, 999 call handlers, nursing assistants, secretaries, cleaners and porters could be lured to the private sector.
A report by the union said firms were ‘acting fast’ to snap up disgruntled NHS staff with £1,500 one-off payments for joining and company discounts.
It claimed cleaners and porters in the health service are currently paid up to £2 less per hour than shelf stackers in Aldi and baristas in Costa.
NHS nursing assistants, security guards and office workers could earn an extra £1 an hour by delivering parcels for Amazon or in an admin role for a high street bank.
Ministers have agreed to a three per cent pay rise for all NHS England staff this year on the back of their efforts during the pandemic.
But with inflation already at six per cent, Unison says the rise will translate into a real-terms pay cut.
Britons are facing a cost of living crisis following Covid and the war in Ukraine, with the price of petrol, bills and food all set to rise faster than wages.
In a report, Unison said cleaners and porters in the health service are currently paid up to £2 less per hour than shelf stackers in Aldi and baristas in Costa
The NHS has been struggling to fill its rotas for years, with around one in ten jobs currently vacant.
But Unison has warned this could be widened as the cost of living crisis bites and staff look for higher paying jobs in the coming months.
NHS workers are paid by bands between 1 to 9, with those in the bottom level receiving the smallest pay packets.
Those in band 1 — such as cleaners and laundry assistants — are paid between £9.49 and £9.59 per hour.
Band 2 staff like porters, catering staff and drivers earn between £9.49 and £10.19.
But Unison said in comparable roles like baristas at Costa Coffee they could earn up to £11.29 an hour.
Switching to working in Amazon’s warehouses could see them paid £11.10.
Retail assistants at Morrisons, Sainsbury’s, Pret a Manger and Marks and Spencers all start on £10 an hour.
A band 3 member of staff in the NHS such as a healthcare assistant, security guard or office worker can expect to earn between £10.40 and £11.14 an hour.
But in comparable roles as junior staff in HSBC or Lloyds Bank they could earn from £10.60 to £11 an hour.
Unison said NHS staff were being further incentivized by signing on bonuses, like the up to £1,500 offered by Amazon over the festive season last year.
Unison said many porters in the West Midlands had already left to work in Amazon’s warehouses, as just one example.
Unison’s head of health, Sara Gorton, said: ‘It’s clear big-name employers who compete with the NHS for staff are acting fast.
‘The health service can’t function without cleaners, porters, healthcare assistants and other low-paid workers.
‘But no one would blame them for taking jobs with employers willing to pay better rates.
‘The Chancellor’s spring statement was silent on public sector pay, but the staffing crisis will deepen unless the Government acts swiftly with a real pay rise that leaves inflation in the shade.
‘Workers will then have no choice but to go after better rates on the high street as the cost-of-living crisis continues to bite. That doesn’t bode well for patient care.’
She called for an ‘above inflation’ pay rise of £9.90/£11.05 an hour as the minimum rate across the NHS.
NHS staff were among the only public sector workers to see a three per cent pay rise last year — while police officers and teachers had their wages frozen.
The Department of Health made funds available for a similar pay rise this year — pending confirmation from pay review bodies.
The rise was originally planned for April 1, but the agencies are not expected to make their recommendation until later this summer.
NHS staff in the lowest pay brackets — such as cleaners and porters — will see their wages rise to £9.65 an hour from next month.
It comes as the national minimum wage will rise to £9.50 an hour from the start of April.
A Department of Health spokeswoman said: ‘We hugely value and appreciate all our NHS staff.
‘NHS staff received a three per cent pay rise last year, despite a public sector pay freeze, which has increased nurses’ pay by £1,000 on average and we are giving NHS workers another pay rise this year.
‘We’ve submitted evidence on what pay rises are affordable while balancing the country’s long term economic health, protecting public sector finances and front-line service delivery, and managing inflationary pressures.
‘As part of our evidence we have highlighted the urgent need to tackle the Covid backlog and continue growing the workforce.’