Nurse leaders announced at a protest that they will ballot for strike action unless the public sector pay cap is scrapped in time for the next budget.
Hundreds of nurses gathered at Parliament Square today (6 September) to protest the cap on their pay, which the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) says is ‘putting patient care at risk’.
In May this year, RCN members voted overwhelmingly to take action on nursing pay and today’s rally was the culmination of the resulting ‘summer of action’.
The RCN’s chair of council Michael Brown told the crowd: ‘I think it is a political decision – the underfunding of the NHS.’
He added: ‘We need to future-proof the profession and the workforce. We need the pay review body to take off the handcuffs.’
He sent a warning to Parliament: ‘You have one last opportunity to scrap the cap. If we hear nothing by the time of the budget, we are ready to take the next step and ballot for industrial action.
‘This is not a threat, this is a reality.’
Danielle Tiplady (above), a speaker at the rally, told the crowd that low pay forced her out of community care. She said: ‘I couldn’t afford a car so was going around on foot, about four or five miles a day. I loved the job, but I was very tired. I felt totally let down.’
She added: ‘I was getting sick, I was out in the cold and the rain.’ The nurse has since transferred to a hospital.
Loss of £5,990
The RCN calculated that nurses’ pay has decreased by 14% or £5,990 in real terms since 2010.
Nurses told Nursing In Practice they would strike, but only if safeguards were in place for patient care.
One nurse who commutes from Liverpool for her job in London said: ‘Hopefully we can get a resolution.’
Sarah Degruchy said: ‘We just want to be paid fairly.’
Student nurse Alice Duncan said: ‘There will not be an awful lot of options left. I don’t think anyone wants to (strike) as of course patient care comes first.’
Shelia McSharry who runs a preceptorship programme in Warwickshire said the nursing shortage is having an impact.
‘The community nurses have gone into the community without having done two or three years of on the ward. They have gone straight into community.’ She added: ‘It’s knocking their confidence.’
New nurses are also ditching the job for retail jobs to earn more, affecting the staffing levels of those who remain, she said.
She told Nursing In Practice: ‘I’ve never had so many nurses given such a responsibility at such a junior post.’
Comedian and campaigner Tony Robinson, who spoke at the rally, shared stories from nurses who told him about struggling to make ends meet and said they were unable to save for the future or contemplate retirement. ‘It’s humiliating,’ he said.
‘When we are confronted by pain, diseases and madness and loss, its you who minister to us. You support us and let us lean on you. You are the people that have been consistently slapped in the face for the past five years.’
The actor, who shot to fame as Baldrick in BBC’s Blackadder, said: ‘We all have a cunning plan, to scrap the cap.’
Palliative care nurse Annie Potter said she has seen her pay drop in real terms.
‘I think it’s an utter shame and disgrace that nurses are remunerated poorly.’
The Warwickshire nurse who has worked in the profession for 42 years said: ‘I’m really genuinely fearful for the future, we are not going to be able to retain nurses and attract them for training.’