Your browser is no longer supported

For the best possible experience using our website we recommend you upgrade to a newer version or another browser.

Your browser appears to have cookies disabled. For the best experience of this website, please enable cookies in your browser

We'll assume we have your consent to use cookies, for example so you won't need to log in each time you visit our site.
Learn more


'We may not unite over table tennis but we should over pay'


I trained as a mental health nurse in the 1980s, which means I am very good at table tennis but I couldn’t put a drip up if you gave me a drip erection kit and a set of instructions.

I am not very good at anatomy and physiology either, although I know an ear when I see one.

However, mental health nurses - despite what the Nursing and Midwifery Council says - don’t really need to be good at these in my view and, while I have met many adult nurses who find it difficult to sit down for any part of a shift and talk with people, I can do that all day and every day and consider it a job well done.

In short, if you are an adult nurse on a busy ward, the only use you would find for me would be as a hatstand, unless you had arranged some sort of table tennis play off against another nearby ward where the winner gets to keep the last healthcare assistant. In that circumstance, I’m definitely your man.

Of course, it is crass of me to identify adult nurses as ward based. Many work in the community, or in schools, or general practice.

And not all mental health nurses are good at table tennis. Some have developed more clinically precise skills, which, bizarrely, do not involve ping pong at all. And I haven’t even mentioned the often overlooked talents of child nurses or learning disability nurses.

In terms of education, I have long believed this creates difficulties for nursing. How does a generic education genuinely prepare nurses for the incredibly disparate range of nursing roles there are?

“Accepting pay cuts when bankers get bonuses is simply obscene. It isn’t about politics - it is about morality”

However, it is not the “one size fits all” mentality of the NMC that concerns me right now. Rather, it is the politics of looking after nursing.

There are more than 660,000 nurses on the NMC register. There are more nurses in the UK than there are people in Manchester, Sheffield or Birmingham. If all of us wanted to move to Glasgow, everyone else in Glasgow would have to move out which, let’s face it, would give us absolutely nothing to do.

In short, we are the largest single professional group in Britain, although I suspect counsellors and independent financial consultants are catching us up.

Yet, despite this when we are confronted by assaults on our working conditions and pay - most recently a freeze
on increments - we don’t respond as a collective, do we? The voices of 660,000 people do not rise up as one and say “no”. Instead, the mass that is nursing separates out, divides or becomes insular, quiet or busy.

Partly, of course, it is habit - partly it is culture. Historically, all managers or politicians had to do was start a rumour about cuts and the eager to please nurse would start legislating for less. But surely now we know better? Now we are more politically astute?

I have never known what it is that the mass of nurses have in common beyond sharing a name and trying to care for patients. However, if their work or skills do not unite them, surely the assault on their working conditions, pay and - dare
I say it - even more importantly, the care they bring to the world surely now should?

Accepting pay cuts when bankers get bonuses is simply obscene. It isn’t about politics - it is about morality. I can’t help wondering that if all the nurses, whoever or wherever they are, accept this, they will only be asked to sacrifice more in the future.


Readers' comments (9)

  • I no longer work in a hospital or the NHS but for a further education establishment as a nurse. It took literally years for 'agenda for change' in my department to happen & a great deal of patience & fight eventually, for what should have been our automatic right!
    Pals that are still slogging away on the wards/in hospitals had a similar problem.
    We are so often treated as 'the under dog' & too readily accept being undervalued underpaid & being the underclass as nurses.
    It is obvious that the Con-Dem party, David Cameron especially are ( as Mr Milliband says) being extremely arrogant in NOT listening to Drs & Nurses regarding the destruction of PCTs & the NHS.
    The threatened pay freeze is just another of the deadly symptoms of the decline.
    We must as Mark says, do something NOW & join ranks before the case is terminal!!

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • I have to say I agree with what you're saying. We should probably be the most powerful lobby within this country and the one that politicians fear to cross doing so at their peril. However, we give way and refuse to stay united on every single point that matters. I for one am fed up with being the whipping boy/girl and soft target of the NHS just because we care for our patients. Would they try it with the doctors? I think not as for the most part they'd simply down tools!!

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • Nurses pay should be in line with police and teachers, whose starting wage is about 3000 more. Why is it not ?
    Because we don't unite and we "care" for our patients ,too much to strike. Sure I care but I still feel I deserve a decent wage!

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • "Accepting pay cuts when bankers get bonuses is simply obscene. It isn’t about politics - it is about morality”

    Bonuses for bankers who mismanaged their banks so spectacularly that we (the tax payers) had to bail them out because the banks were judged "too big to fail".

    Doctors don't tend to get pushed around by the politicians, but nurses are seen as a soft target for all the reasons mentioned above.

    Could we partially withdraw our labour by working to rule, doing the bare minimum but not allowing patients to suffer?

    I believe many nurses (like many people these days) are apathetic when it comes to politics. In addition the feeling of being overwhelmed, ground down and worn out by day to day pressures of work, family and life in general, mean that many of us lack the energy and conviction required to fight for Agenda for Change to remain in place.

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • I do not know how to take action against this dreadfully unfair proposal. I want to, but do not know how!

    I have emailed the RCN with my views and also emailed my MP. Furthermore, I have made colleagues aware of the situation and asked them to do the same.

    Apart from this I feel powerless to act. If anyone has any ideas please would you share them so hopefully we can all get together and for once ACT!!

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • I am a trained mental health nurse from Queensland I know that in this state they fought for 1:4 patient ratio just like Victoria did and now NSW, they carried out industrial action such as close down beds if their was a staffing shortage on the ward at that the time,work to rule, paper bans, you have to become united and let politicians know that nurses cannot be pushed around, plus they shouldnt become weak like in NZ split mental health nurses from general nurses each have a different union and make sure your Union is not paid off by the Government and work in partnership, NZ follows the rubbish that goes on in the UK, rise up now you need leadership good luck I really hope you guys unite!!!

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • Nurses can shut beds and cancel cold surgery

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • Personaly gone are the days when people took up nursing as a calling and it is now seen as just a job. If you are good at taking exams and have a photographic memory then you will get your pin number and you will be a nurse on paper. Is it enough to be there just for the cash??? or do not the patients count any more ??????? Do you just want to turn up do your stuff so you then can get promotion or are we there for the patients and relatives ?

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • Because we are compassionate does that mean we shouldn't get a decent wage? We have been emotionally blackmailed over the fact we care for too long!

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

Have your say

You must sign in to make a comment

Please remember that the submission of any material is governed by our Terms and Conditions and by submitting material you confirm your agreement to these Terms and Conditions. Links may be included in your comments but HTML is not permitted.