The Royal College of Nursing is preparing for strike action after members expressed anger over the 1% pay increase proposed by the government for NHS staff in England and Wales.
Nurses have spoken to the Guardian about their thoughts on the recommended pay rise and how they feel about the future of the profession.
‘I will support industrial action if the unions think it’s the only viable option’
Working as a staff nurse on ITU at a hospital in Sheffield, 41-year-old Ben feels the proposal is “a kick in the teeth” and said it is “quite difficult to take in” after what he and his colleague have been through in the last year.
“There’s no end in sight,” said Ben, who has worked as a nurse for nearly 15 years. “We’ve had a pay freeze for the past eight years. It’s like the government is only offering it to say they’ve given us a pay rise.”
Ben’s partner is also a nurse who works on a Covid ward so the financial implications affect them both. “I think it works out to be around £20 extra a month which makes you wonder whether you’d rather not have a pay rise at all.
“Morale is so low and colleagues are suffering from depression and anxiety for what they have been through and witnessed during the pandemic. The proposed pay rise will destroy some people.
“This is the final straw for NHS staff, and I for one will be supporting industrial action if the unions think it’s the only viable option.”
‘I’ve never seen it get this bad’
Jim Gough, 58, a nurse at the Royal University hospital in Liverpool, has worked in intensive care since 1993. Given this is one of many pay offers he has seen over the years, his response is cautious for now. “The offer isn’t official yet. I’ve seen Tory governments do this before. They put out a rumour that it will be 1%, and then you’re supposed to be grateful when they give you slightly more than 1%,” said Gough.
If the pay rise does end up being this low, he said, it will be a further blow to nurses’ morale. “After all we’ve been through, if it is just 1%, nurses will ask: is that what they really think of us? I’m older and I’ve been doing this a long time now, and I’ve never seen it get this bad.”
He added: “I’m heading towards retirement, so I’ll be fine. But there are a lot of younger nurses who came in just before this all kicked off, and they’ve had a baptism of fire. They’ve done really well. But you can see it on their faces in the coffee room, they have just had enough.”
‘I’ve decided to leave the profession’
Alice McKain is one of those nurses who have had enough. “I’ve decided to leave the profession and have a career change,” said the 25-year-old intensive care nurse in south-east London.
McKain qualified as a nurse in September 2019 and said if she had known she would be facing a pandemic she wouldn’t have joined. “We experience incredible pressure every day. The PPE is suffocating and there is no support for our mental health. We’re just expected to get on with it.”
She heard about the pay proposal after finishing a night shift on her ward, which only treats Covid patients, on Thursday, and said 1% is an “insult” to the work staff have done over the last year.
“We’ve had 16 nurses from our team leave in the last few months. They’re not all Covid-related but the pandemic has been the catalyst. We’re just burnt out.”
The average starting salary for nurses in the UK is £24,907 but McKain feels it should be “at least £40,000 to reflect the broad skill set we are expected to have”. She added: “What the government is offering is degrading.”