Beyond the pandemic, nurses face a tough fight for fair pay
Applauded now as the nation’s heroes, yet nurses will still have to compete for funding later
Every Thursday at 8pm, like many others across the country, I join in the Clap for Carers, applauding NHS and other key workers for their efforts amid the pandemic.
Banging my pots and pans, I join the community validation of nurses and other front-line workers who are doing their best to get us through COVID-19. But I do so with growing concern about the post-pandemic world, and how nurses will fare in it.
Leadership lacking on PPE and overall planning
In terms of government leadership, the UK has not been an exemplar during COVID-19.
Compared with other countries, we were late to lock down, after what appears to have been a dangerous dalliance with the discredited herd immunity approach.
We have fumbled the provision of personal protective equipment, and our testing capacity continues to be woefully weak.
Some Westminster government ministers seem unable to drop their default pre-COVID approach to communications with the public, which is to dissemble and deflect. At a time when we need honesty and clarity, we have often received vague and undated promises of future improvement.
‘There is a risk we will come out of this with no positive change’
When this is over there will no doubt be an inquiry, a reckoning and a message of ‘lessons learned’.
But of equal importance will be how the country funds its NHS and care sector, and how it looks after its front-line workers – today’s heroes.
Where will nursing pay sit in the government’s priorities post-pandemic?
We came into the pandemic with an underfunded health and care system, and more than 40,000 nurse vacancies in the NHS in England alone. There is a risk that we will come out of it with no positive change.
Post-pandemic, the UK economy will be in recession of a magnitude not seen since the Great Depression of the 1930s. There will be competing pressures on what the government can fund, and a reduced tax base.
Nurses, and their leaders, must prepare to win tough arguments. Strategic alliances need to be strengthened, public goodwill maintained and policy messages sharpened.
Today’s applause is insufficient to guarantee a fair share of tomorrow’s funds.
James Buchan is professor in the faculty of health and social sciences at Queen Margaret University, Edinburgh
More from James Buchan