Up to 100,000 nurses in the UK will go on strike on December 15 and 20 for more pay. It will be the first strike in the 106-year history of their union, the Royal College of Nursing (RCN), and the largest in the country’s NHS history.
Wage and inflation figures suggest this should come as no surprise. Gross annual salaries of hospital nurses in the UK increased by 10% in nominal terms, but fell by 6% in real terms between 2010 and 2019, according to a dataset published by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).
The UK is not the only country where healthcare workers went on strike in 2022.
In Spain, thousands of health workers, including doctors working in emergency services, were on strike in November. In addition to a considerable increase in their salaries, they asked for more staff and more resources.
In France, health workers joined protests in several cities in June with similar demands. German doctors went on strike in March.
In Turkey, health workers went on strike for better pay and working conditions in March. They also took to the streets in several Turkish cities in July to call for more action to prevent violence after a cardiologist was shot dead by a relative of a patient.
According to the Turkish Medical Association, thousands of Turkish doctors have left their posts to work abroad over the past decade. They usually prefer to move to Western countries, especially Germany.
Health personnel, especially hospital nurses, have worked tirelessly during the COVID-19 pandemic. In many European countries, they demand better wages, better working conditions and more resources.
How much are nurses paid in Europe? Which countries pay nurses the most and the least, and how much have nurses’ salaries changed over the past decade?
There are significant differences in the salaries of nurses across Europe.
In 2020 or the nearest year for which data is available, official annual gross salaries in hospitals ranged from around €11,880 in Lithuania to €101,151 in Luxembourg, according to the OECD. The dataset includes 25 European countries.
Annual gross salaries of nurses (2020)
In addition to Luxembourg, the gross annual starting salary was above €50,000 in seven countries. Germany (€46,829) and the UK (€42,588) are not among them, according to OECD data.
Nurses in France and Italy earn half of what they earn in Belgium and Switzerland
The annual salary of a nurse in France (€35,531) or Italy (€29,222) was less than half the annual salary in Belgium (€72,508) and almost exactly half that in Switzerland (€70,965).
With the lowest salaries for nurses, Lithuania (€11,880) is followed by Turkey (€12,172) and Latvia (€13,551).
Wages and purchasing power parity
The ranking changes when looking at salaries in terms of purchasing power parity (PPP). PPP is an indicator of price level differences. In other words, it reveals how many currency units a particular amount of goods or services cost in different countries.
The use of PPP can “eliminate the effect of price level differences between countries”, according to Eurostat, as it can be used as a kind of currency conversion rate to convert expenditure expressed in national currencies into a currency artificial common.
In 2020, salaries for nurses based on the PPP ranged from €18,700 in Lithuania to €66,800 in Luxembourg. The average among the 20 EU countries was €35,300. Although PPP differences across countries are smaller than nominal wage differences, they still vary significantly.
Belgium (€62,300) and the Netherlands (€50,600) follow Luxembourg in terms of the highest PPP salaries. At the bottom, Lithuania is followed by Latvia (€18,800) and Portugal (€21,400).
Annual gross salaries of nurses in purchasing power parity (2020*)
In Finland (€31,200), the salary of nurses based on the PPP was below the EU average.
Remarkably, Turkey (€31,700) had a higher PPP-based salary for nurses than several EU countries such as Finland, Italy and Greece.
Nurses are paid less than the average salary in France
The ratio of nurse salaries to average salaries in each county is also a useful indicator. The average wage in a country is based on the total wages paid and the average number of employees across the economy.
In 2020, the ratio of a nurse’s salary to the average salary ranged from 0.88 in Lithuania to 1.58 in Belgium. This means that nurses in Belgium earn 1.58 times more than the average salary in the country. This ratio was 1.2 on average for 20 EU countries.
In Finland, Latvia, France, Switzerland and Lithuania, nurses are paid less than the country’s average wage. The ratio between the salary of a nurse and the average salary was 0.91 in France and 0.88 in Switzerland. The ratios were higher in Spain (1.5), the Czech Republic (1.42) and Poland (1.36).
Ratio between the salary of nurses and the average salary
How have nurses’ salaries changed over the past decade?
The nominal change in annual gross wages for nurses between 2010 and 2020 was highest in Iceland, where wages increased by 123% over the past decade. The nominal variation refers to the values obtained when inflation is not taken into account.
Some EU Member States, such as Hungary (104%), Estonia (94%), the Czech Republic (92%) and Slovakia (91%), also saw dramatic increases over this period .
Nominal evolution of nurses’ salaries in euros between 2010 and 2020
Nurses’ salaries fell in three European countries between 2010 and 2020: Norway (1%), Italy (4%) and Greece (16%). In Norway, the decline was caused by changes in the exchange rate.
Evolution in real terms: decline in the United Kingdom and stagnation in France
The variation in real terms is more meaningful because it takes inflation into account. Among nine selected countries, wages increased in seven countries in real terms between 2010 and 2020 (Hungary, Slovakia, Poland, Czech Republic, Netherlands, Spain and Belgium). However, they have decreased by 6% in the United Kingdom over this period (2010-2019) and have not changed in France.
Evolution of nurses’ salaries in real terms* between 2010 and 2020
A closer look at the UK
Looking more closely at the UK, the figures show how nurses’ wages have fallen in real terms while nominal wages have increased between 2010 and 2019. Nominal wages and wages in real terms were equal in 2010 to 100 dots. The nominal wage then steadily increased, reaching 110 points in 2019. However, taking inflation into account, the wage in real terms gradually decreased until 2017, reaching 93 points, and only increased by one point in 2019.
Annual Gross Salaries of Nurses in the UK: Nominal Salary and Salary in Real Terms
This figure reveals that the annual gross salaries of hospital nurses in the UK increased by 10% in nominal terms but fell by 6% in real terms between 2010 and 2019.