Nurses don’t get paid much, they work long hours with often unpaid overtime, and it’s a job with few freebies.
But the one thing some nurses do get is help with their accommodation. And rightly so. And that’s why a London trust – The Royal Free – has come under attack for wanting to sell off its key worker accommodation, particularly as it has been reported it could be used to create luxury flats worth up to £10m.
A trust spokeswoman says that “no decision” has been made yet to sell off Queen Mary’s House, where 52 nurses and others reside as tenants in affordable housing. However, at the same time, the Royal Free is not denying that it is considering options to bring in more cash.
For many nurses working in London, affordable housing that enables them to walk to work is their only way to make ends meet in a job that, let’s be clear, doesn’t really pay that well.
But besides the fact that we should be mindful of how this affects individual nurses, we also have to think about what such a strategy does to the workforce. Nurses’ pay has been savaged by years of real-time pay cuts, forcing many to reconsider their job options, and so the NHS needs to do anything it can to retain its staff.
Ensuring their nurses don’t have to pay market rates for their accommodation – particularly in the capital or some of our larger and more expensive cities – is one way of helping to keep them on the register.
Many of the salaries paid to NHS workers – including nurses – make it simply not viable to afford travel and the standard cost of living. And the NHS, if it is serious about making efforts to retain its staff and maintain safe staffing levels, must consider those facts – and not just the profits it can make by selling off its land.
”Once the doors to such housing is closed to our NHS staff, my fear is they will remain closed forever”
The public and even NHS staff might understand the need to sell off such a valuable asset in the current climate that trusts find themselves operating in. These are harsh times with trusts finding it hard to deliver any sort of care without going into the red.
If those profits were reinvested back into subsidising staff to help with their accommodation costs, or building new on-site affordable housing, I could be sympathetic. But my fear echoes that of the Royal College of Nursing, which said it will campaign long and hard to keep the keys to Queen Mary’s in the hands of its NHS staff tenants. Because once the doors to such housing is closed to our NHS staff, my fear is they will remain closed forever.
But this is where the NHS as a national organisation – and the government – needs to look long and hard at what selling off this accommodation does to its workforce.
Ultimately, it comes down to whether profit or people matter more – and by people, I mean both the staff and the patients.
When you make nursing staff suffer and dwindle in number, there is really only one outcome, and it isn’t a good one for those who work in our health service, or those who need to use it.