The NHS is in danger of losing thousands of vital staff because of stiff competition for workers from high-street firms, a leading union is warning.

Unison said that without significant pay increases, 999 call handlers, healthcare assistants, medical secretaries and cleaners were being tempted to switch to the private sector.

Supermarkets, coffee shops and logistics firms are among those promoting wages higher than the lowest hourly rates in the NHS, according to Unison. Drivers in particular can command higher rates of pay if they move to a private company, it was suggested.

Golden hellos worth £1,500, overtime supplements of an extra £2 an hour and staff discounts are among incentives being offered, it was revealed. Unison warned that an exodus of NHS workers to the private sector would be “disastrous” for the health service amid an ongoing staffing crisis.

A report for Unison by Incomes Data Research said: “In the public sector, rising inflation means that the gap between…

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