It is time to pay nurses a fair wage because the continuing cuts to their incomes is draining not just their personal finances, but ruining the NHS and undermining its ability to run a safe service.
Nurses are one of the most well-regarded, trusted and respected professions by the public – and yet they are never respected when it comes to their pay.
On Monday, MPs debated the 1% pay rise cap for NHS nurses in the House of Commons as a result of the Royal College of Nursing lobbying to influence the annual salary review process, which is currently under way for NHS staff for 2017-18.
The RCN states that because of the pay restraint forced on public sector staff since 2010, nurses are 14% worse off in real terms.
“I remember several nurses telling me they could not afford to ever go on holiday”
It’s time to recognise that if nurses and midwives get paid only 1% more each year, then they will no longer afford to stay in their profession. During the strikes about pay a couple of years ago, I remember several nurses telling me they could not afford to ever go on holiday, get mortgages or even pay for food. This is shocking. Actually, it’s more than that, it’s outrageous.
This is not the way to treat those looking after the most vulnerable people in our society, doing complex jobs and working unsocial hours in order to do so. Nurses are precious and valuable to society, and yet they are made to feel worthless, quite literally.
“This is not the way to treat those looking after the most vulnerable people in our society”
It is also not acceptable to ask students to pay for their own training, remove the bursary, and then leave them with a salary that refuses to keep step with the economy. It feels somewhat ironic that those justifying the introduction of student fees for nursing defend it by saying that it is OK because many nurses will never earn enough to pay it back.
But even if ministers can ignore the ideological perspective of this debate, refusing to put the pay up creates a real threat to the profession and workforce supply.
We are struggling to retain the nursing workforce, with Brexit and the student education funding reforms making it difficult to recruit and retain nurses, this is not the time to encourage more nurses to take the door marked “exit”.
“This is not the time to encourage more nurses to take the door marked “exit””
As former Labour health secretary Andy Burnham pointed out, it does not make sense for a government to cut the bursary at a time when it is struggling to recruit and retain nurses. He believes that the pay caps will drain staff out of the NHS and into the private sector. And he is probably right.
Former health minister and Conservative MP Dr Dan Poulter said during the debate that it was “unacceptable” for senior NHS managers to be given big pay rises while frontline staff were left with increases of zero or 1%.
Everyone knows that the NHS is in trouble and that the finances don’t stack up. But why should the lowest paid workers pay the price for this? Why should nurses be the ones to continue to put up and shut up? It used to be that there was a never ending supply of nurses all eager to do their jobs and so if you annoyed one group of nurses, you could find some more who would be willing to do the job. But the rules have changed. Organisations cannot find enough nurses to provide the care they need, so guess what government? You’re going to have to pay more to attract nurses and keep them. It’s time you acknowledged that fact, before it really is too late.
Because by refusing to pay nurses a fair wage, you are not just screwing over nurses, you are screwing over the NHS and its patients.