Ministers have the power to avert nursing’s perfect storm – and strike action

Poor pay is forcing nurses to quit and putting people off choosing nursing as a profession. No one wants a strike, but nurses may feel it’s their only option if the government continues to ignore the obvious, writes managing editor Janet Snell

Nursing is facing a perfect storm, according to the RCN. Rising vacancies, shrinking nurse numbers, increasing pressure of work, falling pay – and that’s before staff numbers feel the full impact of Brexit.

No wonder thousands of nurses braved the rain to take part in last week’s Scrap the Cap demonstrations in Downing Street and in high streets across the country.

Nursing’s workforce statistics are stark. Particularly worrying is the fact that the number of experienced nurses – those with 10 years or more of service – who are quitting has more than doubled over the past three years.

Strike ballot

Even Conservative MP Maria Caulfield complained that when she was nursing she found it hard to make ends meet, after being stuck at the top of her pay band with no pay rise for years on end – though that didn’t stop her voting against lifting the pay cap in parliament.

The government seems determined not to budge on the issue, despite the growing crisis. Don’t ministers understand the law of supply and demand? Poor pay is not only forcing nurses to leave the profession in droves, it’s also putting people off choosing nursing as a career.

As RCN general secretary Janet Davies says, unless the government indicates by the autumn budget that there’s going to be a decent pay rise for the profession, the college will be balloting on strike action.

No one wants a nurses’ strike, but staff are being forced into a corner. Those who want to fight to save their profession may feel they have no choice but to take industrial action. Others will simply vote with their feet and quit.

Either way it’s patients who will suffer. But ministers have the power to avoid that – by scrapping the pay cap and showing that they value nursing staff.

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