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Scrap the cap: thousands of nurses urge end to pay restraint at RCN Westminster rally

Around 2,000 nurses have gathered at Parliament Square, London, today for the biggest event yet of the RCN Scrap the Cap campaign.
Scrap the Cap

About 2,000 nurses gathered at Parliament Square in London on Wednesday calling for an end to the public sector pay cap.

Nurses carrying placards and banners convened outside the House of Commons as the first prime minister's questions of the new parliamentary year got under way.

The event was held as part of the RCN's scrap the cap campaign, is calling for an end for the 1% pay cap, which unions say has resulted in a real-terms pay cut of 14% since 2010.

The RCN has warned of 40,000 nurse vacancies in England alone, which it believes is partly a result of pay restraint with experienced nurses leaving the profession.

Industrial action

RCN general

About 2,000 nurses gathered at Parliament Square in London on Wednesday calling for an end to the public sector pay cap.


Around 2,000 nurses made their feelings clear about scrapping the 1% public pay cap
at the RCN rally on Parliament Square, London, on Wednesday. Picture: David Gee

Nurses carrying placards and banners convened outside the House of Commons as the first prime minister's questions of the new parliamentary year got under way.

The event was held as part of the RCN's scrap the cap campaign, is calling for an end for the 1% pay cap, which unions say has resulted in a real-terms pay cut of 14% since 2010.

The RCN has warned of 40,000 nurse vacancies in England alone, which it believes is partly a result of pay restraint with experienced nurses leaving the profession.

‘Industrial action’

RCN general secretary Janet Davies said ahead of the rally: ‘If the government fails to announce a change of direction in the budget, then industrial action by nursing staff immediately goes on the table.’

Speculation is mounting that prime minister Theresa May is preparing to end the cap for nurses, teachers and other public sector workers later this year.

On Tuesday the Scottish first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, announced she would end the pay cap in Scotland.

Speaking to Nursing Standard after prime minister's questions, RCN chair Michael Brown said of Theresa May's response to Jeremy Corbyn asking her to lift the cap: 'I think she is travelling a dangerous journey.

'Nurses have come from across the country to show how they feel about how they have been treated over seven years, and if Theresa May is not listening, I issued an ultimatum today.

'They have one last chance at the budget, if the cap is not scrapped, I will move forward a motion to ballot members for industrial action.'

'Heart of our nation'

Actor and Labour activist Sir Tony Robinson was among the guest speakers addressing the crowds at the rally.

In a rousing speech, he said his parents both died with dementia, and nurses were instrumental in holding his family together.

He said: 'You are the heart of our nation when we are suffering.

'When we are confronted with our darkest fears like my family was, when we're confronted with pain and disease, and madness, and death and loss, it is you who listens to us, it is you who cares for us, it is you who use your skills and experience to support us and let us lean on you.

'And yet it is you who the state has consistently slapped in the face for the last five years.'

The former Blackadder actor added: 'We don't want any more weasel words, we don't want any dodging, we don't want any lying.

'We all have a cunning plan: scrap the cap now.'

Attendees applauded, brandished signs reading 'scrap the cap' and chanted 'enough is enough'.

Comedian Rob Delaney, who also took to the stage, praised the British healthcare system, saying nurses are the 'glue that holds it together'.

Mr Delaney, from the United States, said: 'I'm kind of an expert on the differences between British healthcare and American healthcare - and British healthcare is so vastly superior.'

Something has to give


Picture: David Gee

Among those attending the rally was Lauren, a children's nurse from London.

She told Nursing Standard: 'I'm here because I have had enough. I am really struggling with money and I can't carry on in this career if it's not going to reward my skills.

'I love this career, I don't want to leave, but I'm being forced out. Something has to give.

'My friend who I graduated with and lived with is now working in Australia. She earns almost double what I earn and she is at the same level as me.

'I am being put in situations where patients are in danger. Actual danger, because we are understaffed. I try to go to management about it, but what can they do?'

Mental health nurse James Watson, from Norfolk, said: 'I'm here today on behalf of all my colleagues who weren't able to be here because they have to keep working, and for those who've had to take part time jobs on top of nursing in incredibly difficult circumstances.

'I'm quite a senior nurse but still my wages are not equivalent with people in the private sector. They should pay what people deserve.'

Recognition

Mary Trevelyan, a band 5 nurse from London, said: 'It was great to have so many nurses speak at the rally to share how much they are struggling
Some got so emotional, which made me very emotional too. We are being so undervalued and we deserve fair pay, and we want to be recognised for the work that we do.'

Toni Goodchild, an end of life care nurse from Southend on Sea said she attended the rally to 'protect the future of nursing for our patients'.

'We are the backbone of the NHS,' she added.

'People are struggling because everything has gone up and our salaries have risen below inflation. I have friends who are retiring early because of the cuts, the long hours and the stress.

'I hope they listen for the sake of us all.'

The Treasury will set out the remit for public sector pay review bodies in the coming weeks.

A Department of Health spokesman said ahead of the rally: ‘As the secretary of state has made clear, ministers are well aware of the pressures on front-line NHS staff, including nurses, who do a fantastic job.

‘Top priority’

‘The support and welfare of NHS staff is a top priority, and the government is committed to ensuring they can continue to deliver world-class patient care.

‘We are helping the NHS to make sure it has the right staff, in the right place, at the right time to provide safe care.

‘That's why there are over 31,100 more professionally qualified clinical staff, including over 11,600 more doctors, and almost 12,000 more nurses on our wards since May 2010.’


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