Health academics envious of NHS pay

April 25, 2003

Nursing and other health academics resent that their pay and conditions are falling behind those of their National Health Service colleagues, according to a survey from lecturers' union Natfhe.

Andy Pike, head of Natfhe's health educators campaign, said: "These academics are envious of NHS pay and the agenda for change currently improving conditions in the NHS."

Seventy academics in health-related disciplines in post-1992 universities responded to the online survey on issues such as workload and the allocation of time for clinical updating and research.

The statement "The pay and conditions of health educators compares well with other health professionals" drew little support from respondents.

"This reflected the perception that salaries for senior health professionals within the NHS have increased over and above comparative salaries in higher education," it says.

More than half (54 per cent) of respondents said their workloads exceeded the safeguards in the national contract, which limits the formal scheduled teaching to a maximum of 550 hours a year.

On average, respondents reported staff-student ratios of 19:1 and 23:1 in health departments. The national boards for nursing and midwifery had recommended a ratio of 12:1. This is being re-evaluated by the Department of Health as part of a national review of contact prices between universities and the NHS.

Only 16 per cent of respondents said the balance between teaching, research and scholarly activity was correct and only 6 per cent said they had enough time for research and scholarly activity.

"Many health educators conclude that carrying out a full range of duties, including research, clinical practice and scholarly activity, is fast becoming impossible," it says.

Four out of five respondents said their department had more than one intake of students per year and 71 per cent of them were not able to meet the demands of their jobs fully. "The dual intake of students doubles the administrative burden on health educators who have to deal with twice the amount of intake-related administration as do other (non-health) academic staff," the survey says.

It found little evidence that health educators want to leave higher education and return to full-time practice. But it warns: "Ten years after the transfer of health educators to the higher education sector many academics may be beginning to question the benefits of transfer."

It says many universities and colleges rely on NHS-commissioned courses for funding and investment, not all of which was used to increase staff numbers or provide resources in health departments.

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