Most people believe the NHS does not have enough nursing staff to provide safe care, according to a poll released at the same time as hundreds of nurses head to parliament today to protest over pay.
The survey, carried out for the Royal College of Nursing, found around seven in 10 people felt the NHS lacked adequate nursing staff while a similar proportion believed nurses were underpaid.
“Scrap the pay cap and help to recruit thousands more nurses for a safer NHS”
Findings from the poll, which was conducted by YouGov last week, come as nursing staff prepare to gather at Westminster to call on the government to lift the 1% cap on public sector pay rises.
It follows a series of similar events that the RCN has described as a “summer of protest”, as it attempts to increase pressure on ministers to “scrap the cap”.
Meanwhile, reports in several national newspapers on Monday suggest the government does intend to lift the cap in the near future and that nursing staff could be among the first to benefit.
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The RCN has previously said strike action is on the cards if the cap is not lifted in this autumn’s budget, with the majority of members who took part in an indicative poll earlier this year saying they would support such a move.
Around 2,000 nurses are expected to gather in Parliament Square this lunchtime at an RCN rally that will be addressed by actor Tony Robinson and comedian Rob Delaney, as well as frontline nurses and nursing leaders.
The union said ongoing pay restraint was pushing people away from nursing and has contributed to widespread nursing shortages.
“The government’s public sector pay cap has created a workforce crisis in the NHS”
Earlier this year, the Nursing and Midwifery Council warned that the nursing profession was shrinking because more people were now leaving the nursing register than joining it.
The YouGov poll of more than 1,600 adults was carried out last Thursday and Friday for the RCN. It found 72% said there were too few nurses in the NHS to ensure safe care for patients.
Meanwhile, 68% said nurses were underpaid – including more than half – 58% – of those who voted Conservative in the recent general election.
More than half of those who took part in the online survey said they would be willing to pay more tax to make the NHS safer – including a majority of Conservative voters.
RCN chief executive and general secretary Janet Davies said the poll findings showed the public were aware of nurse staffing shortages.
Pay rise above 1% ‘needed to ease nurse crisis’
“The public can see the shortage of nurses for themselves. Ministers are significantly out of touch with public opinion,” she said.
“They should heed this warning, scrap the pay cap and help to recruit thousands more nurses for a safer NHS,” said Ms Davies.
“Experienced nursing staff are leaving in droves – not because they don’t like the job, but because they can’t afford to stay, while the next generation do not see their future in an under-valued profession,” she said.
She added: “If the government fails to announce a change of direction in the budget, then industrial action by nursing staff immediately goes on the table.”
Responding to the planned protest, Labour health spokesman Jonathan Ashworth called on the government to make its plans on NHS pay clear.
“The government’s public sector pay cap has created a workforce crisis in the NHS which is driving trust deficits and causing misery for patients,” he said.
“Nurses, midwives and paramedics should be valued and rewarded for the brilliant work that they do and the government must make their plans on NHS pay clear now, before it is too late,” he said.
Majority of public believe NHS short of nurses and back better pay
Source: Chris McAndrew
As revealed on Monday, reports have suggested that the government may take a phased approach to lifting the pay cap from 2018.
It is understood that Treasury chief secretary Liz Truss will outline the plans when she writes to the NHS and other pay review bodies later this month.
Unions, including Unison and the Royal College of Midwives, took strike action in 2014 over pay, when the government sought to ignore the accepted pay review body process. However, the RCN’s leaders opted not to take part and did not formally consult college members.
In 2015 the government announced public sector pay would be capped at 1% on an annual basis for a further four years.
But in June this year, unexpectedly, health secretary Jeremy Hunt hinted at some movement on the government’s pay restraint policy. He told NHS bosses he planned relay concerns about staff pay to the chancellor, following a future meeting with the head the RCN, which has now taken place.
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There has been a growing chorus of concerns from a number of organisations – including those representing employers and the body that reviews annual NHS pay rises – that the cap is not sustainable.
This has included a recent call by the Sir Mike Richards, chief inspector of hospitals at the Care Quality Commission, for NHS staff “to be properly rewarded”.