So Peter Carter, head of the RCN, wants us to ‘think very hard’ about taking industrial action?
Perhaps he’ll excuse me for pointing out that I don’t think it’s something that anyone, nurse or not, does without a second thought. Going on strike as a professional is not an easy thing to do, and while we in this country are lucky enough to have the right to strike it often in reality means losing a day’s pay, upsetting the boss and falling out with colleagues.
I completely agree with his and many others’ comments that nurses would have a particularly hard time striking, that the thought of walking out on our patients goes against all we believe in and will make us feel like we are not doing our duty in protecting our patients. But what about the protection those patients need from an understaffed, overstretched, exhausted workforce? Are nurses able to provide good care if they are doing the job of three people, with no lunch, worrying about how they will pay the mortgage next month? The simple answer to that is no: it’s been shown time and again that where there are major failings, it comes down to unsafe staffing levels and morale that is being scraped off the floor.
As nurses (or fingers-crossed-soon-to-be-nurses), yes we agreed to put the patient at the centre of all that we do in our jobs. Our job, for which we get paid, at which we work hard, is a calling, a vocation, etc., but it is still a job. I work, I get wages at the end of the month, I pay my rent, and I go back to work again. I love my job more than any other job I’ve done, but it is still a job: an exchange of skills in return for money. If that exchange starts being one-sided, then I will argue that things aren’t fair. Just because nurses love what they do doesn’t mean that they don’t deserve a wage they can live off.
So what’s the answer? Keep moaning in the Nursing Times? Go to nursing conferences and discuss it with other nurses? The only people listening to this are nurses; no one else can hear. Nurses owe it to themselves, the NHS, their patients and their future patients to come together and find a voice to stand up for themselves, to insist that the government listens. It’s the job of a union to help us do this, to lead the way and fight for fair working conditions for all its members, but all we are getting is emotive words such as “abandoning your patients” and “leaving patients in the lurch”. The only reason patients would be “left in the lurch” is because nurses are so indispensable! But it’s not nurses who need to realise that, it’s our government- and the man who’s meant to be leading the march to parliament isn’t telling them.
You may have guessed that I fall down on the side of camp that wants to be running through Downing Street with a burning flag (maybe not quite that but you get my drift), but don’t try and tell me that wanting and expecting to be able to actually receive wages I can live off in return for my job, means that I don’t care about my patients. I care very much; I want the best for them – the best service, the best future in a free-at-the-point-of-contact national health service. But I want the best for me too, and I don’t think that’s a crime.