In her 14 years working as a nurse, Caz*, 35, from Cardiff, has “never seen such low morale with colleagues”.
The Coronavirus pandemic stretched the already-depleted NHS to breaking point, with higher demand on services equating to longer, tougher shifts for staff. Yet nurses have seen their real-term earnings fall by 20% since 2010, according to the latest analysis by London Economics.
It’s why nurses have voted to strike for two days on December 15 and 20, in the biggest ever UK-wide walkout in the Royal College of Nursing’s 106-year history.
Many of the biggest hospitals in England will see strike action by RCN members but others narrowly missed the legal turnout thresholds to qualify for action.
All NHS employers in Northern Ireland and Scotland will be included and all bar one in Wales met the relevant legal thresholds. Emergency care will still be staffed.
With the cost of living rising and no guarantee of improved working conditions, nurses like Caz feel they have no choice but to take a stand.
“I am seeing friends consciously leaving the NHS to pursue a job outside of nursing because they are so fed up. Nurses are overworked and patient safety is being compromised as a result,” she tells HuffPost UK.
“Nurses feel undervalued and neglected by this government, we are hoping strike action can change this. Lack of pay increases in line with the rising cost of living is having a massive impact, but when I speak to my nursing colleagues, patient safety and ensuring patients get the care that they deserve is at the forefront – this is where our concerns lie! It’s time for the government to invest in the NHS.”
The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) asked its 300,000 members to vote on strike following growing concerns about pay, working conditions and patient care.
The union is asking for at least a 5% pay rise for all nurses above the RPI inflation rate of 12%.
RCN general secretary Pat Cullen said: “Anger has become action – our members are saying enough is enough. The voice of nursing in the UK is strong and I will make sure it is heard. Our members will no longer tolerate a financial knife-edge at home and a raw deal at work.
“Ministers must look in the mirror and ask how long they will put nursing staff through this. While we plan our strike action, next week’s Budget is the UK government’s opportunity to signal a new direction with serious investment. Across the country, politicians have the power to stop this now and at any point.
“This action will be as much for patients as it is for nurses. Standards are falling too low and we have strong public backing for our campaign to raise them. This winter, we are asking the public to show nursing staff you are with us.”
Nurses on social media have expressed support for the strike action.
Health Secretary Steve Barclay described the results of the ballot as “disappointing”.
I’m a nurse and will be voting to strike. I swore I never would, but enough is enough! And for anyone saying we’ll compromise patient safety 👇🏼 pic.twitter.com/DL5sqbccYF
— Emma1215 (@Emma12150) October 1, 2022
I am a Registered Nurse James, and I will be voting to strike. It’s not just about pay, it’s about safe staffing levels, and safe care. Nurses are leaving the profession at an alarming rate, if conditions do not change, there will be no one left. #FairPayForNursing
— Cathy Murphy 💙 (@MrsMurphySoton) October 6, 2022
Sarah, a 45-year-old nurse from North London, believes striking is the only option nurses have left.
“Year after year we receive a real-terms pay cut, it is becoming harder and harder to live on my current wage,” says Sarah, who is part of NHS socialists, a group of nurses calling for fair pay and treatment for nurses all over the country.
“The cost of living crisis has meant I need to budget every penny. By the time I have paid my bills, food and travel expenses there is little to no money for even the most basic of luxuries.
“It really feels like I’m working every day just to survive. I’m really scared about the future, if things get any worse and prices go up further I don’t know how I will be able to survive.”
Work for Sarah is stressful and the workload only seems to be getting larger, while staffing resources decline.
“Staffing levels in the NHS are becoming increasingly dangerous for patients and staff, I have seen it with my own eyes!” she says. “‘More work, less money’ seems to be the mantra now!”
Karen*, 60 from Liverpool, has been working as a nurse for more than 45 years after starting her training aged 18. She believes strike action is “necessary to protect the NHS” and says a pay rise is vital if the health service wants to attract new nurses.
“Nursing is an amazing job, [but the] work load is getting larger on a daily basis,” she says. “We want to be able to spend the time with and give the care our patients deserve. I am tired of propping up the service we give with unpaid hours and no breaks to achieve this.”
HuffPost UK asked the Department of Health and Social Care for comment on the issues raised by nurses. A spokesperson said: “We value the hard work of NHS nurses and are working hard to support them – including by giving over 1 million NHS workers, including nurses, a pay rise of at least £1,400 this year, as recommended by the independent NHS Pay Review Body.
“NHS staff also received a 3% pay rise last year, increasing nurses’ pay by £1,000 on average despite a public sector pay freeze. Industrial action is a matter for unions, and we urge them to carefully consider the potential impacts on patients.”
The union is also asking members of the public to get involved by co-signing a letter to the government, which asks to “protect nursing to protect the public” and “see sense.”
*Surnames have been omitted to provide anonymity