As a nurse, I think Rishi’s plan to end our sector’s pay freeze is meaningless

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Cracks in services became gaping chasms once the pandemic hit (Picture: Ian Forsyth/Getty Images)

At a time when we are faced with rising cases of Covid-19, the winter crisis around the corner, a recruitment and retention emergency and record high waiting lists for treatment, we need serious action from this Government to support our national health service and its workforce.

Instead, Rishi Sunak made his front-page grabbing announcement this week that he was ending the public sector pay freeze that he implemented in November last year as a response to the pandemic. However, any finer details around this latest announcement were alarmingly lacking.

As a specialist CAMHS nurse, when I first heard this news, I felt exhausted by another Government announcement that’s vague and quite honestly meaningless. We need clarity – I wanted to know what they are tangibly going to do to support us. 

My partner and I are both nurses and have worked throughout the pandemic. We have two small children and we both contracted Covid-19; it has been the most challenging period of my life, and we know it is very far from over. 

We work in mental health services and the pressure on already overstretched services has been devastating. As a health service, we have struggled for years with short staffing, dealing with a constant lack of beds in the country and at times working all night when there was no one to take over on shift. We have been screaming into the void and it feels like no one has listened.

Cracks in services became gaping chasms once the pandemic hit. 

We were utterly unprepared and entered this crisis with a crippling 100,000 vacancies across the health service. This negligence is unforgivable, and we know it has cost a devastating amount of lives.

Let’s be clear, there should never have been a public sector pay freeze last year in the first place. 

This was a political choice, and without yesterday’s announcement being accompanied by a restorative pay increase – to roll back years of austerity and bring us in line with the cost of living – this is yet again simply gesture politics. We need to hear that the Treasury will be properly investing in public sector workers, and anything less is simply not good enough.

In July this year, we were awarded a 3% pay increase, however, this was not fully-funded by the Government – it had to come from existing NHS budgets.

This gives clear indication of how serious Downing Street is about investing in our overburdened services. They forced struggling NHS trusts to find the money to fund our pay award when there are people literally dying in ambulances in hospital car parks.

Many NHS workers are actually worse off due to year-on-year real term cuts to our pay; which simply means our pay has not kept pace with the rate of inflation. Factor in the increase in national insurance and increased pension contributions and you are left with an already demoralised and exhausted workforce dealing with yet another kick in the teeth.

We are being stretched to breaking point, and it comes as little surprise – in recent polls – that one in four NHS workers are more likely to quit than a year ago when we are dealing with chronic understaffing, dangerous working conditions and coping with our patient care being continually compromised.

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Last summer, myself and four other nurses decided to organise a fight back – for each other and our patients. I co-created the grassroots campaign NHS Workers Say No, which campaigns for pay justice for NHS workers. We made a decision to mobilise, organise and fight.

We created this movement during a pandemic – at a time when the UK was relying on its NHS workers – and when many were working in unimaginable conditions. We have been campaigning for a restorative 15% pay increase for all NHS workers, and we are owed this.

We polled the members of our Facebook community and decided on our pay demand being 15%, which is actually the average that workers have lost from their salaries in real terms over the past decade, according to GMB Union.

We do not accept the argument that the Government can’t afford this when we have people in power who have chosen to spend billions on a failed test and trace system, and who have handed millions to their pals for dodgy PPE contracts – putting our lives at risk in the process.

This is about priorities and, post-pandemic, we must ensure that we have a properly funded, well-resourced and safe NHS.

We have seen what happens when there is underinvestment in our health service, when we don’t organise for change, and we must unite in pushing this Government into action, or we will have no NHS left.

Our trade unions recently conducted consultative ballots of their members, to seek their views regarding the 3% pay award and the first round of ballots have been to overwhelmingly reject 3%.

This is hardly surprising because an increase of this size is an insult after some of our colleagues have had to rely on food banks and work 40+ hours a week just to survive.

We will continue to organise for the next round of ballots, and my Union GMB, is planning strike action in the NHS. We are asking for support in our action, as this affects us all.

If Rishi Sunak believes that this announcement will inspire confidence in NHS workers that the Government cares about us and our safety within the NHS, he is very wrong. This does not address years of austerity, freezes and cuts and there must be pay restoration to address the staffing crisis.

We have heard nothing in the budget that will end the real issues we are facing in the NHS so we will continue to increase the pressure, and we are united in doing that.

Holly Turner is a specialist CAMHS nurse and co-founder of NHS Workers Say No.

Do you have a story you’d like to share? Get in touch by emailing James.Besanvalle@metro.co.uk

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