Fed up with low pay, pensions, poor working conditions, lack of respect for the profession and cuts to services, which threaten their jobs and ability to do them well, nurses are considering industrial action.
The idea was almost universally supported at the recent Unison and RCN congresses in Liverpool.
The official ballots have yet to be taken, but the appetite for working to rule or coming out on full strike is definitely increasing as nurses feel marginalised.
And nurses are not alone in their dissatisfaction. The Chartered Institute of Personnel Development’s (CIPD) Employment Relations Survey of 400 organisations earlier this month revealed that employers in the public sector are worried about industrial action, with just under half (49%) saying their workers may strike in the coming year.
Ben Willmott, senior public policy adviser at the CIPD, said the survey showed that spending cuts are affecting the employment relations climate, but added that in the light of the tough times endured by private sector staff through the recession, striking public sector workers will quickly lose sympathy if they cause disruption to the public.
Teachers are also gearing up to take strike action over their pensions, and London Underground’s recent spate of walkouts have almost brought the capital to a halt, but action by these groups doesn’t directly risk anyone’s health. Every second of a nurse’s time is vital to patient care, and since on average they perform an additional unpaid shift each week, patients, carers and their relatives, as well as their managers, will certainly notice the difference in standards of care if nurses work only contracted hours - let alone if they strike fully. This is a tricky situation for nurses to navigate.
Nurses are compassionate, and tell us they find it hard to walk off and take a break on time if a crisis is taking place on a ward, or to leave a patient’s home on the dot when they ask for an extra five minutes to explain how to take their medication.
Industrial action may well be the only way that nurses feel they will be heard but, ironically, it’s harder for nurses to take this step than it is for any other public sector workers.