Nurses are calling for public support after the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) in England, Scotland and Wales began balloting its members over strike action. It is the first time in the union's 106-year history that healthcare workers have been urged to take such action and comes at a time of unprecedented pressure on the NHS.
The RCN has called for a pay increase of 5 per cent above the inflation rate of 10.1 percent, but NHS staff are currently being offered an average raise of just under 5 per cent, amounting to a real term wage cut at times of rapidly rising costs.
Many nurses feel this is insulting, with some forced to consider leaving the profession altogether and finding alternative jobs outside healthcare.
The average pay for a full-time experienced nurse currently stands at around £32,000 per year. Considering inflation, this represents a significantly lower average pay compared to previous years.
RCN General Secretary and Chief Executive Pat Cullen told the Guardian: "This is a once-in-a-generation chance to improve pay and combat the staff shortages that put patients at risk. Governments have repeatedly rejected the NHS and the value of nursing."
Despite the Department of Health and Social Care in England stating on the BBC that it values "the hard work of NHS nurses", the current strain on nursing staff is putting patient safety under further risk. A study by the Nuffield Trust has revealed that more than 40,000 nurses working for the NHS in England left the profession in the past year. It is estimated that this amounts to one in nine members of the total workforce.
RCN is not the only union urging members to take strike action, with around 50,000 nurses who are members of Unison also being balloted.
Ultimately, many nurses will no doubt continue to perform essential duties during the proposed strikes to protect patients needing critical care – because that is what nurses tend to do –put others before themselves. But elective surgery lists and outpatient appointments are likely to be affected adversely affecting patients' long term health in an NHS already battered by the Covid 19 pandemic.
Nurses do not consider strike action lightly. This unprecedented move by the RCN demonstrates how desperate nursing staff have become in the face of staff shortages they know compromise patient safety. The Government has shown in recent weeks that its economic priority is not on public spending. Years of failure to take action to improve pay and conditions of nursing and medical staff threatens the entire fabric of our health system.
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