Today, thousands of nurses are expected to take part in industrial action.
Members of Unison, Unite, GMB and the RCM will stage a four-hour stoppage, followed by “four days of action short of strike action”, in which members will stop working during breaks or staying late.
So far, so expected. There’s a lot of anger over the real-term pay decreases nurses have faced over the past few years and the word “strike” has been bandied about for months.
But the fact that really surprises me is that this will be the first time such action over pay has been taken in 32 years.
I’m not surprised that nurses don’t take strike action lightly; you come into this career to do your best for patients and no matter what is put in place to protect them, they will be affected. The characteristics that draw people into nursing are the same personality traits that prevent them from kicking up a fuss.
What does surprise me is the apparent lack of awareness among those making the decisions of just how dire the state of play is for nurses. Nurses are angrier than they’ve been in 32 years.
As Dave Prentis, Unison general secretary, puts it: this government has shown “utter contempt” for NHS workers.
But no matter how bad things get for health professionals, I know from my own experience of working in the health service that it’s often easier to just keep turning up at work, doing your best and going home again. When you’re part of an organisation as huge as the NHS, it’s hard to see that anything you do can make a difference.
Health professionals can often fall into the trap of accepting that pay freezes, short staffing and low morale are just part of the job. Maybe they’ll moan in the staff room but ultimately accept that as one cog in a huge machine, they don’t have the power to influence change.
Is it possible that the government is counting on nurses’ altruistic natures and lack of morale to get away with cutting pay?
If so, then the more they get away with, the worse things will get.
The Nursing Times team will be attending as many hospitals as we can on Monday morning to offer our support and find out first-hand how nurses are feeling. If you’re a member of a union that is striking, please make every effort to be there. You deserve better.
Find out how the profession reached the point of industrial action on our NHS Strike page.