The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) is voting 300,000 of its members on the strike action due to shortage of wages and personnel. The vote, which is the first in the union’s 106-year history, is in protest of the government’s decision in July to give most NHS staff a 5% pay rise. The RCN campaigns for a rise of 5% above inflation, which is currently 10.1%.
Five nurses share their views on possible strike action.
‘I see no other option’
I didn’t think I’d support a strike until now. I see no other option. Patient safety is of the utmost importance and unfortunately due to unsafe staffing levels we have been unable to provide this for too long. Enough is enough.
I am insulted by the 5% salary increase, which is not in line with inflation. After 15 years of nursing, I should ideally be at a level where I’m comfortable, but I’m about to cover my bills. I have to work extra shifts to get by, even though I’m already exhausted with the shifts I’m doing. With the cost of living going up, I’m now starting to think of other jobs I can do. I am even considering going back to college to self-finance a course to leave the nursing profession.
It worries me a lot that people don’t know what a strike would look like. It’s quite amazing to talk to experienced colleagues who say they couldn’t just walk away and drop off patients, because that wouldn’t happen. In real terms, a strike would look like a normal weekend or bank holiday. On strike days, they would ensure that there is coverage for essential services and all critical care would continue as normal. And, in fact, we are working with insecure numbers every day. The strike is a means to end unsafe personnel practices.
Rosanne, 36, Advanced Nurse Practitioner in Emergency Care, Lanarkshire
‘Wages in real terms have fallen like a stone in the last decade’
I would reluctantly support a strike. I know of younger colleagues who really struggle to manage. This includes professional and qualified staff, as well as healthcare workers, who do much of the “hard work” for salaries that are disgraceful compared to Lidl.
Although the strikes would necessarily cause some disruption, this would pale in comparison to the ongoing daily chiseling process in National Health Service services caused by austerity in the last 12 years. The 5% salary increase is completely inappropriate. The salary in real terms has fallen like a stone in the last decade. We can’t recruit. We cannot retain staff. And given the stratospheric rise in the cost of living, these problems will only get worse over time.
Personally I think I have a reasonably good salary, although friends who work in the private sector don’t think it really adds up given the training and experience I have, however I did take a 9% pay cut in real terms between 2010 and 2021 .
Stewart, Adult Mental Health Nurse, Portsmouth
‘I’m happy to cover shifts’
I recently returned to nursing for the last month after spending two years disabled and housebound with endometriosis, adenomyosis, and fibroids. So I’ve actually seen the profession from both sides. I went from living on Universal Credit and Esa as a single mom to having a salary, so right now I’m happy to be on a salary.
I am not yet a member of the RCN; I intend to join but so far I haven’t even been able to pay the membership fee. There is nothing left to cut apart from food. We no longer have a television. We have lots of blankets and we are putting on sweaters. But I’m going to go with what my colleagues say on the ballot. They’ve been working longer than me, so I listen to them.
I’m happy to cover shifts or go out myself. Whatever my colleagues want, I’m here to support them.
Ellie, 37, vaccination nurse, Inverness
‘Public opinion changes very quickly’
I retired at 55 after 35 years. I have returned part time because I still need the money to pay my mortgage. I was offered a position as a staff nurse in the private sector for a salary of £41,000. The equivalent NHS role pays £25,000.
The 5% wage increase was another insulting wage cut in real terms. Health and social care needs real investment, and adequately paying staff is essential. led by RCN Strike in Northern Ireland shows that collective action can be carried out safely.
I am concerned about how quickly the public perception of nurses will change, fueled by the media. Nurses are generally seen as some kind of angelic caregivers who respond to a calling to do their best, but public opinion changes very quickly.
Tim, 55, retired mental health nurse, who has returned to nursing part time, Cheshire
“We want to make sure our patients are safe”
I support a nurses’ strike. I think we are already having trouble prioritizing patient care in the NHS at the moment. We’ve had a lot of issues with recruitment and retention, and patient care has already been compromised, and I’m not sure what else we can do. It’s gotten to a point where this is what we’ve been pushed into. We want to make sure our patients are safe and we want to provide them with safe and good care. But with current staffing levels, it’s very difficult.
We are here for one thing and that is patient care. That is why we come to work and do our job. That is our motivation. There is always the concern of what will happen and how the service will run. But with that said, he’s already engaged.
It’s really hard when you hear interviews with parliamentarians saying we have to go and get a better job. It makes you feel really undervalued. So these young nurses leave. We are simply not succeeding in retaining them. [Striking] It’s not something we would ever want to do, it doesn’t come naturally to us but like other public sector workers, everyone is working harder than ever due to lack of staff and we have a government that is putting pressure on us and saying, ‘No, you have to work harder and get a better job’.
Lucy, ER Nurse, Bristol