Nurses need to “use the power of the ballot box and the vote, and not their feet” to make their voices heard, according to the Royal College of Nursing’s president.
In her last speech to congress Andrea Spyropoulos, urged delegates to “get political” to ensure that politicians realised their strength of feeling about pay and staffing.
“We need to stand together and send a strong message that nurses have had enough”
In a statement aimed at politicians, she said: “Be careful what you wish for. If you take nurses down the purely profit route, think again.
“In the market economy you pay for what you use, and that means nursing time. Time means money,” she said.
“If you think going down the dividends route, then think again,” she said. “If politicians want more nurses, they need to pay them enough.”
Ms Spyropoulos said she had heard about band 5 nurses who had been forced to visit food banks to survive.
“It is time for change,” said she told RCN members at their annual conference in Liverpool.
“To make change, we have to fight for it. We all have to make change and be political. We need to stand together and send a strong message that nurses have had enough,” she said.
“They are tired of being the scapegoat. They are tired of choosing between leaving their patients and leaving their families, and being treated with contempt by politicians,” she added.
Ms Spyropoulos also said that nurses were tired of being “blackmailed” and “undervalued”.
“Everybody has a breaking point and our nursing staff are fast approaching it,” she warned.
In addition, she set out a list of outstanding issues that wished to tackle on behalf of the profession as she entered the last six months of her RCN presidency.
“I’d like the press to realise it’s the system and not the nurses that fail”
The list included tackling gender and equality issues “for a female dominated profession” that lacked “leaders at the top”.
She also highlighted the need for a “strong, cohesive nursing workforce” and said she would like to see “education considered essential and not a luxury”.
Finally, she called for the national media to be more supportive of the profession.
“I’d like the press to realise it’s the system and not the nurses that fail,” she said.
“I’d love them to start scrutinising the system and not the poor people trapped in it trying to make it work,” she added.