September usually signals a time when everyone returns from their summer break, ready to face the long slog of winter.
For politicians, it can mean returning from a long and luxurious break to head back to Westminster.
While for nurses, it typically means coming back to a ward or unit that is short-staffed, about to get hit by severe winter pressures and do battle with an unending stream of patients who you can not care for in the way you want to and trained to, because you simply don’t have time.
And, of course a staff nurse’s salary means their summer holiday was probably not in a luxury villa on the French Riviera, and so they won’t be coming back to work fully recharged and feeling appreciated and valued.
“All the hints are that austerity might finally be at an end – or at least at the beginning of the end.”
However, this autumn might just bring good news for nurses and other public sector workers. All the hints are that austerity might finally be at an end – or at least at the beginning of the end – and that the 1% cap on pay rises may be scrapped in the November budget.
After all the vague intimations of this outcome, expectations are running high. So high in fact that the Royal College of Nursing has moved on from its catchy slogan of “scrap the cap” and its chief executive and general secretary, Janet Davies, is now demanding more than that, namely an above inflation pay rise for nurses to compensate them for their real terms pay cut over recent years.
If I was chancellor Philip Hammond and had not already included a decent and fair pay rise for public sector workers in my autumn budget statement, I’d be hurriedly returning to my calculator right now.
He simply can not afford to make this issue just about money and what he can afford. Because the profession can not afford to lose any more nurses, which it will if the pay restraint continues.
“The register is rapidly losing overseas nurses because of Brexit, and UK nurses because of poor pay and conditions.”
The register is rapidly losing overseas nurses because of Brexit, and UK nurses because of poor pay and conditions. Meanwhile, the number of students from England applying for nursing courses is 6% down because of the removal of the bursary.
So we can see how devastating politics and pay can be on the profession – and, therefore, the care of patients. Conservative policies are dismantling the profession in front of our very eyes.
But the government has always argued that lifting the pay cap is unaffordable – how can we forget Theresa May’s “there is no magic money tree” comment on Newsnight during the run-up to the snap general election.
So how will it afford it? Well, of course it could make some tough decisions elsewhere on spending and decide to offer nursing and public sector workers a blanket pay rise.
“The demonstration this week outside Westminster was an indicator of the strength of feeling about this government’s demoralising and destructive policy over pay.”
Or it could offer more money to nurses in certain geographical areas or care settings – ones where we are struggling to fill posts or retain staff.
Of course, this is speculation at present, but such an approach would be a mistake.
The demonstration this week outside Westminster was an indicator of the strength of feeling about this government’s demoralising and destructive policy over pay. Nurses have had enough, and they’ve decided to make their voices heard.
They want to feel appreciated, valued and paid fairly. Not just rewarded for staying in hard-to recruit to locations.
The government has a chance to stop the exodus of people leaving the register. And it has to do it now, otherwise this really will be a winter of discontent.