Health workers protest for fair pay | Photo: Newcastle Counterfire Health workers protest for fair pay | Photo: Newcastle Counterfire

Health workers are preparing to fight against the insulting 1% pay offer and they need our support more than ever, argues NHS nurse Stacey Richardson

“How much is it worth to hold a dying child’s hand?” my colleague asked in an open question to the government. She is yet to be answered.

Working within the NHS is a privilege. It allows us to care for the most vulnerable humans, bring some light to their darkest moments and to meet people who change our own life, morals and attitudes. We work with people, fight alongside them, advocate for them when they have no voice and sometimes succeed despite every odd being stacked up against us. We also experience trauma, death and put our own lives at risk – particularly in the ongoing pandemic in which so many NHS staff lost their lives to the virus.

Conditions NHS staff have dealt with throughout the pandemic have been difficult. The Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) fiasco was the beginning of a chain of catastrophic events and government failures. Wards and departments closed, merged or became temporary Covid wards. Staff suffered feelings of extreme anxiety, stress, fear and loss of all control of not only their home life but their working life too.

Many NHS staff left their family home in order to protect extremely clinically vulnerable loved ones. Staff felt as though they did not have the correct training and support to care for these incredibly unwell patients. Mental health among NHS staff is very poor and impacts staffing shortages and staff retention. NHS staff are suffering from the likes of depression, anxiety and PTSD following the horrors they have witnessed and the change the pandemic has made to their own lives. Following the deaths of NHS staff at the beginning of the covid crisis, the government referred to this as ‘the ultimate sacrifice’. But we are people who want to care and nurture. We are not soldiers at war.

A kick in the teeth

The NHS is a national treasure and everything we do is an absolute team effort. This is why we all deserve fair pay in order to keep our own families safe and own lives stable. The idea of a 1% pay rise is an absolute kick in the teeth for us all. We need to stand together with our supporters and our unions. The public clap every Thursday did represent a huge amount of public support for health workers, but from our neglectful government it was nothing other than an empty gesture. Somewhat surprising when our Prime Minister hailed the nurses who he claimed saved his life ‘heroes’.

The NHS has suffered a decade of austerity. The damage of this is now more evident than ever, not only impacting staff but sadly our patients too. The demand is a 15% pay rise for NHS staff. We have lost so much in this last decade. The government has directed billions towards private contacts and nuclear weapons. Why not NHS staff?

The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) convened an emergency meeting on 4 March, following the Department of Health and Social Care’s submission of evidence to the NHS Pay Review Body (PRB) in which it recommended a 1% pay award for NHS staff. In a joint letter with fourteen other health unions, the RCN reminded the Prime Minister of the negative public response to the pay proposal, the negative message this sends to NHS staff, urging the government to reconsider the current pay proposal.

Fighting back

The RCN council voted for the immediate set-up of a £35 million industrial action fund. This will allow compensation for staff in a union partaking in industrial action. In addition, the RCN will be training members in the summer. Striking is not at all an easy decision for NHS staff. However, government refusal to reconsider may mean that industrial action our only option in the fight for change.

Health workers will also join the national demonstration alongside the People’s Assembly Against Austerity on Saturday 26 June, by marching to Parliament Square and exhibiting a strong model motion. Getting support from the RCN, as well as other unions, in backing the 15% campaign has required great pressure from members. Health workers have shown great determination and initiative throughout the pandemic with cross-union strategies such as NHS Staff Voices. We will have to continue to organise and maintain the pressure on union leaderships to keep up this fight.

Our NHS is beautiful and something I am so proud to be part of. I am in awe of the patients I care for and blessed to be a key part of their story. We love what we do and we deserve fair pay. We are grateful for those who stand with us. Standing with NHS workers is also standing with patients. We are all patients.  We became a patient the day we were born. We need to continue to fight for justice which means fair pay and improved working conditions in order to ensure our patients remain at the heart of everything we do.

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