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Nurses lament “years of neglect” on the picket line outside Guy’s Hospital

On February 6th, nurses across the UK went on strike. Roar spoke to several participants on the picket line outside Guy’s Hospital in London Bridge.

The action, coordinated by the Royal College of Nursing (RCN), already took place for two days last month. The union has asked for a pay hike for nurses of 5% above the current rate of inflation. However, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has, thus far, dismissed that request as “unaffordable”.

Just outside Guy’s Hospital and around London Bridge tube station, nurses lamented the “years of neglect” by the current government dating back to the austerity policies in the 2010s. Since then, the Royal College of Nursing has estimated that pay has fallen by 20% in real terms. When asked about the cost of a nurses’ pay hike to taxpayers, those on the picket line pointed out that there’s “plenty of money” that the government has handed out in tax cuts to high-income earners.

In response to the government’s emphasis on minimum safety legislation, the nurses said that there’s already been negotiations with NHS trusts to ensure that there’s a basic level of staff to care for emergency or urgent patients. “A safety line will always be maintained, we’d never put lives at risk” they said. One participant also argued that the legislation does not solve the root problem: “unless nurses are paid what we deserve, we won’t [be able to] retain staff and that’s to the detriment of patients”. Since 2021, there has been a dramatic increase in nurses leaving the NHS.

They were also concerned about the potential knock-on effects for nursing students and aspiring nurses. For one, the they said that the staff shortages mean that there are less qualified nurses available to train and supervise students. In addition, “the student nursing bursary has also been taken away” one of them said. The bursary, which provided grants to support nursing students during their training, was eliminated in 2017, precipitating a fall in applications for qualifying nursing courses. While the bursary was re-introduced in 2019, it was significantly scaled back from previous iterations.

This issue was personal for two of the nurses Roar spoke to who had trained as mature students when they already had families. “The bursary meant I could complete my training and take care of my family” one of them explained. “I think [the cuts] will prevent a lot of mature students from entering the profession…it’s going to mean greater debt for nurses, people with families will find it harder” the other said. 

For nurses further along in their training, the work conditions are discouraging them from staying in their job. One of the nurses said “they won’t be there long enough to specialise in Cardiac nursing, Paediatric nursing or whatever it may be”. This would exacerbate the shortage of specialist staff.

All of the participants said that the government has to change its attitude in order to solve the problem. To end the strikes, “the government must simply come to the table and negotiate…that’s how adults get things done” they said. One of them added, “they need to end their stand-off attitude…right now, they think they’re Thatcher’s children”.

For more information on the nursing strike, visit the Royal College of Nursing’s website

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