Striking nurses send a clear message that they won’t be defeated

Industrial action is the product of years of pent-up frustration that is now fuelling NHS staff’s will to win this fight for fairer pay and sustainable staffing

Nurses on the third day of NHS strikes, outside the Northern General Hospital in Sheffield Picture: John Houlihan

How do you sum up the years of frustration that have led nursing staff, finally, to do the unthinkable and go on strike?

And how do you do it justice on a pithily worded placard, or in a rhyming chant to capture the public’s attention and the media’s gaze?

RCN members have found themselves contemplating this ahead of often freezing-cold days on picket lines as their industrial action over fair pay and safe staffing has intensified. Nurses have been using their characteristic humour – that much-called-upon coping mechanism – to get across their message to the public, of whom a significant proportion are sympathetic to the cause.

Picket line signs have got straight to the point: ‘NHS hero but my wallet says zero’… ‘Think we’ll give up easily? Ask us how long we wait to pee’… and at least one cheeky jibe has involved suppositories and Westminster’s ruling party.

Nurses are determined, and they have the public on their side

The latest Ipsos poll on the issue shows while support for the nurses’ strikes has fallen five percentage points to 45% in a month, the blame for the action is placed largely at government doors. This, as other strikes such as those by ambulance staff are further exposing the incredible strain shouldered by NHS staff and the devastating impact on patient care.

This account from one striking nurse describes a reality that is sadly common:

‘A patient can say they’re in pain and I will reply “I will be with you in a minute”, but that’s not true because I have so many other patients to look after as well. I don’t want to be a nurse in these circumstances.’

But while far too many nurses have felt compelled to follow the sign marked ‘exit’, the unprecedented wave of strikes shows the profession is far from defeated.

Nurses in the NHS are determined and tenacious. This is the fight of their professional lives – and they’re intent on winning it.