Are UK nurses paid more than those in Europe?

Are UK nurses paid more than those in Europe? And how much extra do they want? All you need to know about the never-ending NHS salary row as week of walk-outs begin

  • Graph shows how the UK’s nursing pay stacks up compared to the rest of Europe
  • Read more:  NHS strikes will rumble on for ‘as long as it takes’ union leader says

Nurses in England have once again walked off the job this week, downing tools for a total of 48 hours in the latest chapter in their pay dispute with No10. 

More than30,000 NHS nurses are taking to the picket lines today, in what is is expected to be the biggest day of industrial action to ever hit the health service with 10,000 ambulance workers also holding their own industrial action at the same time.

Today’s nurses’ strike, led by the Royal College of Nursing (RCN), is just the latest to hit the NHS in an ongoing winter of discontent over pay and conditions that has led to 90,000 appointments cancelled so far. 

Union bosses claim their members need an inflation busting pay boost to help their members cope with the cost of living crisis and fix NHS staffing gaps. 

But ministers have refused to budge, claiming the some 4 per cent offered is all the nation can afford, and any more would come at the cost of patient services.

Here MailOnline answers your questions on the nurses strike stalemate.

This graph shows the average nurses’ pay for a host of EU and European countries as of 2020 taking into account how expensive it is to live in each nation. The UK, at £30,880 comes just under the European average of £31,600 but is almost half the top runner Luxembourg with, £59,790

Royal College of Nursing members striking at St Thomas’ Hospital in London today

Nurses strike at St Thomas’ Hospital in London o as part of the ongoing row over pay and conditions

How much do NHS nurses earn compared to the rest of Europe?

The latest international comparison puts the average UK nurses’ annual pay at £30,880 for 2020.

This is just behind the EU average for the same period of £31,600.

Both figures were calculated by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) in December last year.

This report used data from 20 EU countries and five more from the wider European area, like the UK. 

The OECD calculated the value of the nurses’ wages in terms of how much it costs to live in that nation, a method called purchasing power parity.

This allows a comparison between how much the average nurse’s salary is worth in a country that is more expensive to live in compared with one where it is cheaper.

Luxembourg topped the list for nurses’ pay, with health professionals there earning the equivalent of £59,790.

READ MORE No wonder NHS can’t afford union pay demands: On the day of biggest ever strike, we reveal that health service spends £400,000 A DAY on private ambulances and taxis for patients 

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Desperate bosses are increasingly turning to the commercial sector and the outlay on private ambulances and taxis has jumped 62 per cent in just three years. The bill soared to £145million in 2022 – almost £400,000 a day 

This was followed by Belgium with £55,70 and The Netherlands with £45,290. 

Britain came in 12th overall, just behind Slovenia where nurses earned the equivalent of £33,330 but ahead of Poland where they earned £30,340.

The OECD also compared how a nurses’ salary stacked up in comparison to the average wage of each nation.

Across the EU earned 20 per cent more than the average salary in the bloc.

In comparison, UK nurses earned dead-on the average British wage in 2020, similar to nations like Italy and Portugal.

Nurses in Belgium topped the charts earning 60 per cent more than the average wage, followed by Luxembourg and Spain where they health professionals there each earned 50 per cent more than the average worker. 

Why does it matter what nurses elsewhere in Europe earn? 

Two reasons, recruitment and retention.

In terms of retention, if a significant number of Britain’s neighbours offer a comparatively higher wage than the NHS nurses could be tempted to leave and go work there, exacerbating existing staff shortages. 

Additionally, EU-trained nurses working in the UK could easily be tempted by a higher salary in the bloc rather than remain in Britain.

In terms of recruitment, the UK is just one nation competing for international nurses from countries like India and the Philippines looking to shore up its domestic nursing workforce. 

If the UK fails to offer a competitive salary it could struggle to attract international nursing recruits.

This could be devastating with Britain becoming increasingly reliant on overseas trained nurses over the past few years.

The latest data shows the number of international nurses registering to work in the UK is nearing parity with British-trained nurses for the first time. 

Data from the nursing regulator, the Nursing and Midwifery Council shows the UK is increasingly turning to international recruit to boost staff numbers. This year the number of international nurse recruits nearly reached the number British nurses joining the profession for the first time ever. The data also shows the number of internationally trained nurses signing on in the UK has increased year-on-year, minus a blip of the Covid pandemic which hampered immigration

How much more cash do UK nurses want?

RCN bosses have campaigned for pay rise for their members that is five percent above inflation.

With inflation skyrocketing late last year this put the union’s demand at a whopping 19.2 per cent pay rise, though it has since fallen slightly to 18.4 per cent. 

If accepted it would see the average nurses’ salary go from £37,000 to £43,800, an increase of nearly £7,000. 

The £37,000 average is a Government estimate in what the average nurse in England earns currently.

VOTE HERE Are NHS staff taking the never-ending pay dispute too far by striking on the SAME day? Vote here and tell us why… 

More than 50,000 nurses, paramedics and emergency call handlers are taking part in the coordinated strike action today. Pictured above, nurses on the picket line outside St Thomas’ Hospital, London on February 6

In comparison the OECD estimate was for the whole of the UK in 2020 and also accounts for cost of living. 

Union chiefs have also repeatedly hinted that they may accept a pay rise less than half of their 18.4 per cent demand if the Government commits to negotiations.

Strike action in Wales, which were also due to be held today and tomorrow, was cancelled at the 11th-hour after the Government there offered nurses an additional 3 per cent. 

However, ministers at Westminster have so far refused to discuss pay for the current financial year. 

Is it all about pay?

No. Union bosses have also framed the dispute as part of an effort to save the NHS, which is struggling with patient demand alongside tens-of-thousands of staff vacancies.

Nurses on the picket lines have also complained about working conditions.

They have said the stresses of being understaffed, being unable to look after patients as they would like as they rush from emergency to emergency, are also making them consider quitting the profession. 

Others have said it is wrong that hospitals have had to set up internal food banks to help staff during the cost of living crisis. 

What has the Government offered?

No10 has said the 4 per cent offered for the 2022/23 financial year is all the nation can afford.

This is equivalent to an extra £1,400 an increase that was backed by independent the NHS Pay Review Body. 

Ministers have repeatedly warned any additional rise beyond this would have to come out of existing NHS budgets, meaning less services for patients. 

Downing Street while insisting that it must adhere to this recommended 4 per cent but has hinted that next year’s pay negotiations could be more generous.  

When is the next pay hike?

NHS staff are due for another pay rise in April at the start of the financial year.

However, this is unlikely to be paid on time. 

Last week the head of the NHS Pay Review Body told MPs that the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) had missed a critical deadline to submit its evidence for the next pay round.

The body works by taking submissions or evidence from unions, the Government, and the NHS, on the level of pay is needed to attract enough staff to run the health service, versus what ministers say the nation can afford.

From this work, which is now ongoing without the DHSC’s input, the body makes a recommendation on pay to the Government which it can then accept or reject. 

While the NHS Pay Review Body chair Philippa Hird said they were still committed to meeting their deadline to publish their recommendation by April it is unlikely that ministers will sign it off immediately.

This would mean that any pay increase implemented by Government would need to be backdated to April from later in the year. 

How many more times will nurses strike?

Nurses in England are currently due to strike again tomorrow. 

No further dates have been announced as of yet for any UK nation.

However, the RCN has said strikes will continue for ‘as long as it takes’.

Are lives being put in danger by the nurses’ strikes?

No, they shouldn’t.  

NHS staff strikes operate under a system called derogation, where members of unions are made exempt from industrial action, to keep the public safe. 

This means a minimum level of staffing is agreed with the NHS to ensure life and limb care, like emergency services, are maintained as well as there being enough staff to look after patients already in hospital.

However, Maria Caulfield, minister for mental health and women’s health strategy, has urged the RCN to call off the strikes as patients lives would be put at risk the longer action rumbled on. 

She said: ‘There is a risk to patients the longer that strikes go on.

‘So if your operation is cancelled the first time, there is probably a minimum risk.

‘If that’s cancelled time and time again because of ongoing strikes, then patients become more poorly and there is always a risk.

Who else is striking today?

In addition to today’s nursing strike unions representing NHS ambulance staff are also holding their own separate industrial action.

An estimated 11,500 ambulance staff who are members of GMB and Unite are staging walkouts in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Unlike the RCN, who are also due to strike tomorrow, the action by ambulance staff is only being held today.

Where are the strikes happening?

RCN members are striking at 74 NHS trusts and ambulance services up and down England both today and tomorrow.

Specific ambulance strikes are being held at eight ambulance trusts in England, as well as those in Wales and Northern Ireland. 

Ambulance workers were also striking today, like those from union GMB on the picket line outside Gateshead Ambulance Station

Where are the strikes today? 


East Midlands

Nottingham University Hospitals NHS Trust

Kettering General Hospital NHS Foundation Trust 

East Midlands Ambulance Service NHS Trust


Norfolk and Norwich University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust

Cambridge University Hospital NHS Foundation Trust

West Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust 

East Suffolk and North Essex NHS Foundation Trust

Royal Papworth Hospital NHS Foundation Trust


Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust

Guys and St Thomas NHS Foundation Trust

Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children NHS Foundation Trust 

St George’s University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust 

Kings College Hospital NHS Foundation Trust

University College London Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust 

Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust

North West

Lancashire Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust 

Wrightington Wigan and Leigh NHS Foundation TrusT

Countess of Chester Hospital NHS Foundation Trust 

Liverpool University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust

Mid Cheshire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust 

Wirral University Teaching Hospital NHS Found Trust 

St Helens and Knowsley Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust 

Tameside and Glossop Integrated Care NHS Foundation Trust 

North West Ambulance Service NHS Trust 

Liverpool Heart and Chest Hospital NHS Found Trust – 6 Feb / 7 Feb

The Clatterbridge Cancer Centre NHS Found Trust

The Christie NHS Foundation Trust 

Liverpool Women’s NHS Foundation Trust

Alder Hey Children’s NHS Foundation Trust

The Walton Centre NHS Foundation Trust


University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay NHS Foundation Trust 

The Newcastle Upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust

South Tees Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust

Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust

County Durham and Darlington NHS Foundation Trust

Gateshead Health NHS Foundation Trust 

North East Ambulance Service NHS Trust

South East

University Hospitals Sussex NHS Foundation Trust

Queen Victoria Hospital NHS Foundation Trust

Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust

Portsmouth Hospitals NHS Trust

University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation Trust

Royal Berkshire NHS Foundation Trust

Oxford Health NHS Foundation Trust

East Sussex Healthcare NHS Trust

South East Coast Ambulance Service 

South Central Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust 

South West

Gloucestershire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust 

University Hospitals Plymouth NHS Trust

University Hospitals Bristol and Weston NHS Foundation Trust

Dorset County Hospital NHS Foundation Trust 

Royal Devon University Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust

Great Western Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust

Salisbury NHS Foundation Trust

University Hospitals Dorset NHS Foundation Trust

Royal Cornwall Hospitals NHS Trust

Royal United Hospitals Bath NHS Foundation Trust 

North Bristol NHS Trust

Torbay and South Devon NHS Foundation Trust 

Somerset NHS Foundation Trust

South Western Ambulance Service NHS Found Trust

West Midlands

Worcestershire Acute Hospitals NHS Trust

University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust

The Royal Orthopaedic Hospital NHS Foundation Trust

Birmingham Women’s and Children’s NHS Foundation Trust

Robert Jones and Agnes Hunt Orthopaedic Hospital NHS Foundation Trust

Yorkshire & Humber

Barnsley Hospital NHS Foundation Trust

Bradford Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust

York and Scarborough Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust

Harrogate and District NHS Foundation Trust

The Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust

Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust 

Sheffield Children’s NHS Foundation Trust


East Midlands Ambulance Service

North East Ambulance Service 

North West Ambulance Service 

West Midlands Ambulance Service

South East Coast Ambulance Service 

South Central Ambulance Service 

South Western Ambulance Service

Yorkshire Ambulance Service 

Wales Ambulance Service

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