We need an uprising

Nurses and other public sector workers were dealt another blow by the government last week when chancellor George Osborne announced that pay rises are to be capped at 1% for four years.

Staff at King’s College Hospital, London, staged a four-hour strike over pay last year

Picture credit: Getty

Responding to the budget statement, RCN general secretary Peter Carter said the shock of the announcement will be felt by many.

‘Nurses are already feeling the effect of what will now be a decade of severe pay restraint and subsequent reduced living standards. This decision will make the situation worse as nurses realise they are not valued,’ he said.

There was a predictable outburst of protest on social media following the announcement, with despairing messages and defiant outpourings from nurses and healthcare assistants on Facebook and Twitter.

But it all amounts to a hill of beans if we don’t take action. Many complain about this sorry state of affairs, but only some are brave enough to put their heads above the parapet and call for a ballot on industrial action.

At RCN congress in June, the debate about taking action had two distinct queues of members wanting to express their opinion – you were either for or against. At the time, those against taking industrial action expressed concerns about patient safety and a fear of being bashed by the right-wing media for daring to stand up for their right to nurse.

But with substantial losses forecast from already diminishing pay packets, events have now moved up a notch and it is time for all healthcare professionals to take stock. Agenda for Change ‘reform’ has been placed firmly on the horizon, and politicians are about to take even more potshots at NHS pay and conditions.

The Treasury’s public sector pay decision could see some nurses no longer able to put food on the table or lose their homes because they cannot keep up with mortgage repayments.

There are options – you could apply to the RCN Foundation’s benevolent fund for financial help or you could give up nursing in favour of a better-paid, less stressful job. Or you could take the better option of rising up as one and shouting as loudly as you can to dismay, alarm and terrify the dragon heading your way. Stand up for your patients. Stand up for your right to nurse and to care for the sick, the frail and the vulnerable.

Nurses need to up their game, starting with informing patients and relatives about the truly parlous state of the NHS. They need to know that services have been cut, staffing levels reduced and expertise lost as skill mix is skewed, all in the name of cost savings.

But they also need to know about your passion and commitment, and that you are determined to do your best for them even if this means going without food or drink or a toilet break during your shift. You chose to do this job and do it you shall, even with one hand tied behind your back.

The public has the most to lose, and we need it to hold politicians to account. Unless nurses have fair pay and terms and conditions of employment, our inability to nurse will inevitably cause patients harm in the long run.

Now, the future for nursing looks very bleak. Penury and loss of dignity are real possibilities, as is living with hardship that can be avoided.

Nurses need to stop worrying about their image and find their voice. If we all spoke together, imagine what a resounding roar that would be.

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