WHEN you think about nurses what comes to mind? Caring? Compassionate? Always there for you? Or tired, overworked and underpaid?
Nurses are skilled professionals working across all sectors of the National Health Service, delivering care to the most vulnerable people in our society whether it’s in hospital, at home, school or in community settings. We train at degree level before qualifying and are required to top up our education and registration throughout our careers to keep up-to-date with all the latest health research and innovations.
It’s unlikely that you think of us as political campaigners and it’s true that we don’t tend to get ‘political’ very often. We get on with doing the job we were trained to do and that we love. Many of us cannot imagine doing anything else.
But the mood on the wards and out in the community is changing. We are not exaggerating when we say that we now find ourselves in a situation which is neither sustainable nor tolerable. Ourselves, our friends and our colleagues are finding it hard to manage. Stress levels are rising, morale is plummeting and we have had enough.
Since 2010, pay freezes and the one per cent cap on public sector pay increases have left NHS nursing staff at least £3,000 worse off in real terms, with salaries dropping by 14 per cent when compared to our spending power seven years ago. The pay cap not only leaves nurses struggling financially, it devalues nurses and nursing.
By looking at the number of RCN members working in the NHS in Yorkshire and the Humber alone, we have calculated that we’re owed more than £91m for what we have lost since the 2010 election.
Until this year, anyone training to be a nurse would at least have had a bursary to help them through training, and now we don’t even have that. Student nurses now have to pay £9,000 a year for their education.
People are not joining the profession and many experienced and skilled professionals are leaving. Patients cannot get the care they need. There are now some 40,000 unfilled nursing jobs across England. There is a connection between the headlines about patients left on trolleys or waiting for an operation and the drop in earnings. Nurses love their job, caring for patients, but we still need to pay our mortgages, rent, bills and feed the family.
And this rise in vacancies means we’re under more pressure at work too. Most people make difficult decisions at work occasionally but can you imagine if short-staffing in your workplace meant that the choices you made could be the difference between life and death?
In the lead-up to the General Election, Theresa May was asked how she felt about nurses using food banks and she failed to give a reassuring or concrete answer. It seems to us now that money can be found for some things but not for others. We cannot wait any longer for answers, we need this issue to be addressed now.
A Royal College of Nursing survey of members last month showed that nine in 10 would support industrial action if the pay cap is not scrapped soon. This has never happened before. Nursing staff recognise that industrial action of any kind would be a major undertaking and we are not taking this decision lightly. We are doing all that we can to give the Government an opportunity to show us they are listening.
Many nurses are now getting involved in a “summer of protest” across England to give the Government a final chance to remove the cap before a formal legal ballot on action is sent to members later in the year. Many of us feel sad about this but we really don’t feel we have a choice.
Over the coming weeks, readers may see us out campaigning, starting on Friday when our members will be leafleting in Victoria Gardens, central Leeds, from 11am and then delivering an overdue invoice for our missing millions outside the Department of Health, Quarry House.
Please do come and speak to us and find out more about our campaign.
We hope you will support our aims and join our call on the Government to #scrapthecap so we can continue to be there for the patients who need us now and in the future. Without nursing staff, the NHS cannot survive.
* Follow our #scrapthecap campaign on Twitter, @RCNYorksHumber and get in touch to support us.
Anne is a registered nurse and Council member for the Royal College of Nursing in Yorkshire and the Humber.