“It is absolutely ridiculous that he [Keir Starmer] should attack the government over salaries for nurses, when we’ve put them up by 3 per cent on top of the 12.8 per cent rise that we introduced, when we’re hiring 50,000 more nurses…”

Those are some of the claims from Boris Johnson as he and Keir Starmer clashed in the House of Commons yesterday (as health policy is devolved, he was talking about England only).

Let’s take them in turn.

Nurses’ salaries up 3 per cent?

The government announced in July that nurses’ pay would go up by 3 per cent after a previous proposal of a 1 per cent increase caused consternation from MPs and professional bodies.

But the 3 per cent boost – backdated to April – wasn’t entirely welcomed either, with the Royal College of Nursing pointing out that, once we account for inflation, it’s rather less generous than it first appears.

The latest forecasts from the Treasury suggest that CPI inflation will work out at 3.4 per cent this year, wiping out the 3 per cent “cash terms” rise promised by the government in the summer.

If that prediction is born out, then nurses will experience a real-terms pay cut of 0.4 per cent.

On top of a 12.8 per cent rise?

Mr Johnson seems to be referring to an increase between 2017-18 and this year. But he failed to mention that this is for starting salaries only – so it doesn’t affect the majority of nurses.

And again, he’s not accounted for inflation. When we do that, the true figure is more like 4 per cent – according to analysis from the think tank London Economics commissioned by NHS unions earlier this year.

And there’s more: when we look back to 2010-11, when the Conservatives first took office, we can see that nurses were 10 per cent worse off at the beginning of 2021 than they were a decade earlier, according to London Economics.

(This analysis doesn’t include the 3 per cent nominal pay rise announced in the summer).

“We’re hiring 50,000 more nurses”

From what we can tell, this is incorrect. As FactCheck has reported before, the 50,000 figure includes retaining nurses who would have otherwise been expected to leave the health service over the next few years. According to Conservative sources quoted ahead of the last election, the number of nurses actually being hired is 31,500 – about a third less than Mr Johnson claimed yesterday.

A government spokesperson told FactCheck: “NHS staff – from doctors and nurses to paramedics and porters – are rightly receiving a 3 per cent pay rise following the recommendation of an independent review.

“We are seeing record numbers of nurses working in the NHS and applications to study nursing and midwifery have risen by 34 per cent this year alone.

“We will continue to support our NHS workforce to grow so we can tackle the backlog, with 50,000 more nurses by the end of this Parliament.”

FactCheck verdict

Boris Johnson said that the government has increased nurses’ salaries by 3 per cent. But when we account for inflation, it’s likely to be a pay cut of 0.4 per cent this year.

He said this came on top of a 12.8 per cent pay rise. But again, once we adjust for inflation it’s much lower: 4 per cent, according to one think tank. And this only applies to a fraction of nurses – those just starting in the profession.

Mr Johnson also said the government is “hiring 50,000 more nurses”. But we understand the true figure is about a third lower, at 31,500, with the rest made up from retaining nurses who would have otherwise left the NHS.