After struggling through the Covid-19 pandemic, with issues such as being underpaid and under-staffed, NHS nurses have now declared that they will be taking action by striking.
The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) has announced that up to 100,000 nurses will take part in walkouts on the 15th and 22nd of December, making this the biggest NHS strike in history. This decision is largely due to conflicts about nurses’ pay. The RCN is asking for a 5% pay rise above the inflation rate, making it a 19% raise. However, the health secretary Steve Barclay has argued that this is simply unaffordable in the UK’s current climate.
This decision to take industrial action has seemingly been a long time coming. The RCN reports that, with inflation taken into account, nurses’ pay has fallen by an average of 6% between 2011 and 2021. Sandy Harding, the RCN’s associate director of nursing, describes the effects of such pay conditions on nurses – with even the cost of transport being too much for some workers.
“It means some people actually sleep in their cars at night because going home isn’t an option because they can’t afford to pay for their fuel to get back.”Sandy Harding, Associate Director of Nursing
The RCN argues that this compromises the care of patients because it has meant that the NHS endures deep troubles in attracting and keeping nurses. England’s latest NHS survey reports that only 21% of registered nurses and midwives believe that there is sufficient staffing for them to do their job properly. Therefore, many nurses believe that whilst the main driver of this strike is issues with payment, it is additionally about patients not receiving sufficient care. Whilst nurses receive a fair salary, many argue that the nature of the profession means that they should be valued far more greatly. The NHS survey actually revealed that 67% of nurses are working unpaid hours to provide patients with the care they need.
How Will This Affect Patients?
- Under trade union laws, life-preserving care has to be provided during industrial action – Therefore, all staff in emergency and intensive care units would be expected to work as normal.
- It is expected that services such as urgent testing and cancer treatments will be partially staffed.
- It is, however, routine services that are expected to be affected badly – including health visiting and planned operations.
There are many ongoing debates surrounding the upcoming strikes. Many would argue that this action is unfair and unsafe for the affected patients. But is it fair to argue that success in this campaign will positively impact patients in the long term? The UK took to the streets to applaud NHS workers during the 2020 pandemic, and whilst this is a nice gesture, it made no impact on the issues at hand. Workers who risked their lives for others during this time have been continually undervalued and underpaid. Therefore, whilst this upcoming action is alarming, is it truly a shock that nurses have finally gone to such extreme lengths to have their voices heard?