After 20 years in the profession things have never been this bad – no wonder the NHS is haemorrhaging staff
How would you feel if you went to work, and your first task was to sit with a dying patient and make sure that their death was dignified? Then you laid them out and comforted grieving relatives before getting back to work as though nothing had happened. No counselling, no break, no time.
That doesn’t happen every day, but as a theatre nurse it can happen. Even on so-called quiet days, I’m always in a heightened state of alert and I have to be prepared. It’s a privileged job but it comes with an incredible weight of responsibility.
On the night of the Manchester Arena attack in May, I was at home. Like many of my colleagues, I dropped everything and turned up at the hospital to help. The skill, compassion and dedication of NHS staff was humbling. Everyone from cleaners to consultants, healthcare assistants to nurses, went above and beyond the call of duty.
Nurses deal with traumatic events every day. And every day we stay late and miss breaks because we won’t leave our patients stranded. It’s not a job for us: it’s a vocation. We don’t want the violins or the plaudits; we just want recognition and respect. Fair pay is central to that. People who are underpaid are undervalued, and it’s that message – “You’re not worth a pay rise” – that undermines our profession in the eyes of the public and destroys our morale.
In the past seven years, nurses’ salaries have plummeted in real terms by 14%. During the same period the price of food and utilities has rocketed. Some of my colleagues are forced to work extra shifts with agencies and resort to using food banks just to make ends meet. Stress and anxiety are through the roof. A friend of mine has panic attacks at the thought of going to work.
Nurses, and the NHS, are always at the bottom of this government’s priorities. Having dismissed public sector workers as “this and that” earlier this week, Theresa May offered prison and police officers a pay rise on Tuesday. I don’t begrudge them that. They deserve it, as do we. But with inflation at almost 3%, the so-called pay rise amounts to a pay cut, which in any event would be funded by cuts elsewhere in the service. Nurses and my NHS colleagues were yet again kicked into the long grass.
There’s a shortage of 30,000 nurses in England alone. This is a crisis brought about by the government’s refusal to lift the pay cap and its failure to train enough nurses. It has been exacerbated by the recent scrapping of bursaries for student nurses and the EU referendum result. The number of nurses from the EU registering to work in the UK has dropped by 96% since Brexit. On top of that, the majority of nurses are over 50 and counting the days to retirement.
Such is the crisis that our normally compliant profession voted in May to ballot for strike action over pay. That’s unprecedented in the Royal College of Nursing’s 101-year history.
I’ve been a nurse for 20 years and things have never been this bad. I was one of the lucky ones. I came into nursing when there were bursaries, when you didn’t have to go into debt to be a nurse, when patient care came before cuts and when nursing was still a valued profession.
Most NHS staff are too frightened to speak out, and it’s not without trepidation that I do so, but my profession is in crisis and I owe it to the next generation of nurses to voice my concerns. Until the pay cap is lifted, the NHS will continue to haemorrhage nurses and the recruitment crisis will intensify.
Despite that, I’m proud to be a nurse and of my nursing colleagues who, no matter what this government throws at us, will always go the extra mile for our patients.
This article was taken from: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/sep/13/nurses-low-morale-public-sector-pay