Poorly paid nurses struggle to pay rent or get a mortgage, MPs told

Sky high living costs forcing highly skilled nurses to quit, RCN leader tells Commons panel

Proper pay rise critical to retain highly skilled nurses, RCN leader tells Commons panel

RCN’s Denise Chaffer (second from left) addresses parliamentary committee

Nurses are struggling to pay the rent, obtain a mortgage and fill their petrol tanks, with some turning to food banks to feed themselves, the government has been warned.

RCN president Denise Chaffer told a Commons committee on Tuesday that the government must act on pay to retain highly skilled nurses, with retention the most critical issue facing the workforce.

Long-term problems with recruitment and retention are having a direct impact on patient safety, as highly skilled nurses are ‘walking away’, Dr Chaffer told the Health and Social Care Committee.

‘I think the retention issue is really the most critical. We cannot afford to lose one single nurse,’ she said. ‘But it also majorly impacts on safe staffing levels. Nurses that are not able to give safe care is very, very bad news for patients.’

Dr Chaffer referred to figures published by the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) that showed a 13% increase in the number of nurses leaving the register in 2021-22, a total of 27,133.

She said the work of nurses is often specialised and complex and should be recognised with pay that reflects their skills.

Long-term strategy needed to ensure there are enough people to safely staff wards, says RCN president

‘We can’t get away from the pay review issue. We have nurses that are unable to pay their rent, afford their petrol to get to work, and they are unable to get a mortgage, they are relying on food banks, so clearly pay is absolutely critical.’

Her comments come as it was revealed that several hospital trusts have set up food banks to support staff struggling to feed themselves.

Dr Chaffer told the committee, chaired by former secretary of state for health and social care Jeremy Hunt, that to improve retention a long-term workforce strategy is needed to ensure there are enough people to safely staff wards, as well as to support students and international nurses coming to the UK to work.

She said focusing on improving working culture, lifting the financial burden on students, fair recruitment processes and making nurses feel valued were also vital, warning that continuing to underpay nurses would cost the NHS more in the long run as unsafe staffing levels lead to higher care costs.

‘The cost of harm is very expensive as well. But people are walking away, they just can’t do it any more,’ she said. ‘That is one of the biggest risks we have got, particularly after the pandemic and particularly after how hard everybody has worked in every aspect of nursing. They are now on their knees.’

Health secretary urged to 'put NHS pay right'

The NHS Pay Review Body is due to hand down its decision on the 2022-23 NHS pay rise this month. The government has recommended a maximum of 3% but the RCN is campaigning for 5% above inflation.

Meanwhile, nurses and other healthcare staff have told Unison of their financial struggles. One said: ‘As a community nurse, I’ve recently had mileage capped. The cost of fuel has dramatically increased and many of us are struggling to pay the price increase. It’s costing us to come to work and many nurses will unfortunately have to leave the profession.’

The union has written to health and social care secretary Sajid Javid today urging him to ‘put NHS pay right’. An online version of the letter has been signed by more than 35,000 healthcare staff and members of the public.

In other news