Nursing staff on strike today have warned that they will “fight harder” and continue to take industrial action if ministers do not give them the blanket 1% pay rise they want.
Nurses and midwives on the picket line claimed the numbers of NHS workers that turned out today were similar to the levels seen during last month’s strike and proved they will not back down.
Meanwhile, unions said the four-hour strike had been strongly supported, with around 120 picket lines across England and Northern Ireland and a “swell of public support”.
It is the second time in as many months that workers have taken industrial action over the government’s refusal to agree to a 1% pay increase for all NHS staff in England and Northern Ireland.
“We’re back here for a second time because we want to show the government we do actually mean this”
“We’re back here for a second time because we want to show the government we do actually mean this. We do a very good job and we deserve a 1% pay increase,” said Anna White, a midwife at University College London Hospitals Foundation Trust.
Speaking outside University College Hospital, she told Nursing Times that midwives were prepared to carry on striking, adding that they would not accept pay freezes anymore.
- Catch up on pictures and news from last month’s strike
- Follow all today’s action via Strike Live: rolling news
Ms White said she was concerned about the retention of future midwives, as she had seen other colleagues leave the profession after their pay had not improved as they thought it would.
“On a personal note, I’m a midwife and delivering other people’s babies but can’t afford to have my own,” she added.
Fellow University College midwife Julyette Cushnie, who is living at home with her mother because she cannot afford a mortgage on her wages, said: “We are professionals and should be awarded as professionals.
“We all went through university and, yes, we are doing this job because we care, but at the same time you can stop caring if you’re not being paid what you deserve,” she said.
Union members re-iterated that the blanket 1% pay increase that they were asking for was still not enough, because previous pay freezes had meant that in real terms they have seen their salaries cut over recent years.
A 1% uplift would mean only around £20 extra month added to many nurses’ wages, they said, noting that such an increase was more of a “token” gesture required to highlight the wider problems of a stretched workforce.
“There needs to be more action. Striking does work and we just need to fight harder”
Sarah Jordan, a deputy sister at the hospital, said: “I hope people will listen and I think there needs to be more action. Striking does work and we just need to fight harder.”
Gavin Cooper, a practice education facilitator at University College, said the strike was a way of demonstrating that nurses were not prepared to be “passive” and were instead a workforce of advocates for standards that will in the long term improve patient safety.
“If we don’t take this limited opportunity to take action, then it just shows we are compliant and willing to just accept the status quo – which at the moment is increasing workload and no increase in nursing numbers,” he said.
Community psychiatric nurse Tracy Holloway, who qualified around 30 years ago, was on the picket line outside St Pancras Hospital, which is part of Camden and Islington NHS Foundation Trust.
She said: “We’re talking about maybe an extra £20 a month for some of the better paid nurses. It’s not a huge increase, but it’s a token.
“We are striking for our pay at the moment but there is a lot more that needs to be done,” she said. “Thirty years ago there were more nurses and more beds for clients and now nurses, social workers, occupational therapists are out on the frontline in the community – which often doesn’t feel terribly safe – with a huge amount of stress on resources.”
In a statement, Unite head of health Rachael Maskell said: “Today’s second strike action for fair NHS pay has been strongly supported with Unite health members joined by colleagues from the country’s leading health unions at over 120 pickets across England and Northern Ireland, behind a swell of public support.”