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Government is relying on staff 'goodwill', warn NHS nurses, ahead of pay debate

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The government’s ongoing public sector pay restraint policy is creating such low morale and financial difficulty among NHS nurses and midwives that they are leaving for work elsewhere, nurses and midwives told Nursing Times today ahead of a parliamentary debate.

Nurses, midwives and students who gathered at Westminster this afternoon to lobby MPs before the debate on pay later this evening accused the government of relying on the goodwill of staff to keep the NHS running.

“What we are asking for is a pay rise with the rate of inflation”

Frances Fraser

The government had failed to recognise the growing complexity of nursing and midwifery in recent years and the need to increase salaries to reflect the value of staff doing increasingly difficult jobs, they warned.

They called for the government’s imposed average 1% annual pay rise cap – in place until 2020 – to be scrapped and for the NHS pay review body to be used to determine future salary increases.

One NHS nurse told Nursing Times she had been forced to move out of London because living there had become so unaffordable on her wages, resulting in a two-hour commute either end of her 13-hour shifts.

She said she also relied on unsociable hours payments or overtime to make ends meet, but that this meant her annual leave was usually spent working rather than having a break.

“Since I’ve qualified, apart from our Agenda for Change increments, we’ve never had an [above inflation] pay rise which is somewhat demoralising. Especially because our roles, in the past seven years since I qualified, has become more and more complex,” said Amy Overend, a junior sister at King’s College Hospital.

“The majority of us full-time staff have to work unsociable hours – I have to rely on night shifts and weekends – to be able to afford basic bills,” she said.

“I’ve not had a holiday away for four or five years and every bit of annual leave I do have is used at some point working extra shifts to ensure I have more money coming in,” she added.

“Every bit of annual leave is used working extra shifts to ensure I have more money coming in”

Amy Overend

She warned that if the government increased nurse wages above the annual 1% pay rise cap it would improve morale and stop NHS staff from leaving for agency work – something she had seen colleagues do and had considered herself.

“I have had friends who have left the NHS to go and work for bank and agency so they have the flexibility of better hours and pay, and the work-life balance that NHS staff do not have,” she said.

She warned that patients were suffering as a result of fewer NHS nurses who “can’t afford to do their job anymore” or those who continue to stay in the job but are “really pushing themselves to the limit and not giving the best care they can because they are exhausted”.

Meanwhile, one midwife told Nursing Times she was working in three job roles to supplement her NHS wages.

“I hold down three jobs – I’m a research midwife, on a bank midwifery contract and also work as associate midwifery lecturer at the University of East Anglia – and that’s just to keep my family afloat each month,” said Elizabeth Turner, a midwife at Norfolk and Norwich University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, who has been qualified for six years.

She said that, even though NHS finances were tight, nurse and midwife salaries should be increased above the 1% pay rise cap to improve retention and recruitment. She said this would also mean less money being spent on agency staff which could help to increase the number of posts.

“Midwives are leaving in droves – 2020 is going to see the biggest retirement rate we have ever seen and they won’t come back – they won’t retire and then return,” she said.

“I hold down three jobs… and that’s just to keep my family afloat each month”

Elizabeth Turner

Frances Fraser, midwife of six years, also from Norfolk and Norwich University Hospitals FT, echoed her concerns about the strain that working extra shifts was putting on staff. “I have to work overtime shifts every month to support my family and do that outside childcare hours,” she said.

“The climate for me is one of the biggest things – the morale of the staff. We are shorstaffed and the women we are caring for at the moment are becoming more and more complex cases. Our role is ever-expanding and now it’s a graduate post you have to have a degree to do the role and the salary doesn’t reflect those things,” she said.

“We don’t expect a private sector salary. What we are asking for is a pay rise with the rate of inflation,” she added.

“Once we’re at the top of our pay band, we will essentially be losing money. I know lots of people who are leaving because of that. Money is a massive incentive to retain and attract people,” she said.

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