Nurses are the backbone of our society. To devote oneself to the life of another is the most admirable of causes, and yet and time and time again we take the generosity of the nursing profession and smash it to pieces by rejecting their pleas for a respectable wage. This nation’s government not only sees it fit to snub their pleas but to downright ignore them. The nurses have been pushed to the brink with persistently appalling working conditions and a PR war to justify Tory negligence over pay negotiations. The damage caused to the nursing profession and nurses themselves will ultimately be catastrophic.
Let’s never forget that it was the nurses in 2020 who carried us through the perils of Covid. Each and every day these nurses were literally putting their lives on the line to continue to do their jobs and provide us with vital care. We serenaded them in the streets and banged pots and pans into the night in a nationwide effort of appreciation for the sacrifices they made to keep us safe. But despite hailing nurses as heroes, the government could only muster up what I can only describe as the monetary equivalent of a plaster over a severed leg, issuing a 3% pay rise for NHS staff. The ignorance and lack of value to these nurses is astounding towards a workforce who are overworked and consistently underpaid, burnt out from a pandemic where they bore the physical and mental burden. As a result, a mass exodus of nurses began with the NHS falling to its knees day by day. What could quell the damage?
How about another pay rise, but a pay rise so low that it was condemned by the Royal College of Nursing (RCN). Our wonderful, resilient nurses were rewarded with an extra 71p an hour in the midst of a cost-of-living crisis. I bet they were chuffed to bits.
It is truly absurd. You would like to imagine that for such a mentally and physically taxing job during some of the worst inflation this country has seen in a significant period of time that poor pay would arguably be a factor the government would attempt to rectify.
No. Quite the opposite. The first round strikes began, voted for by RCN members, announced in November. However, immediately after, the onslaught against the nurses began and the narrative during Covid of nurses as our unsung heroes was suddenly turned on its head. The Conservative party chairman at the time, Nadim Zahawi, blamed the war in Ukraine and asked nurses to “send a clear message to Mr. Putin” by not striking. Pat Cullen, general secretary of the RCN, called his words a “new low” but at this stage, the Conservatives’ ploy of using real-life war as a method to place guilt on the nurses epitomises their political strategies over the previous years. There has also been the misleading notion of what most nurses really earn which has been pushed repeatedly by senior Tories as some kind of twisted counterpoint to a pay rise. Education secretary Gillian Keegan quoted a figure of £34,000 as the average yearly pay for a nurse, which is technically correct, but remains incredibly misleading . To judge the entire profession on an average is mathematically obtuse, as it is a figure tainted by the larger salaries of higher ups. A more accurate picture of the state of nursing is presented by the salary of a band 5 nurse (the majority of nurses), which is closer to £27,000. But you’ll never hear a Tory MP throwing that figure around. Empathetic and nuanced perspectives on nurses’ pay are absent from the narrative; instead, even if nurses are incredulously required to use the support of a food bank, then some Conservatives reduce the problem to something being ‘wrong with your budgeting’. Thank Simon Clarke for that one.
Perhaps the most obnoxious reaction to the strikes came from the health secretary which becomes almost painfully ironic. Steve Barclay, who as the health secretary you would perhaps imagine is on the same side as the nurses, has taken an eternity to negotiate with the RCN. For an entire month he didn’t just refuse the proposed rise but refused to negotiate whatsoever. It is deflating to consider just how patronised the nurses must feel by seeing the health secretary throw back any sort of compromise in their faces in such a nonchalant way. It continues to appear as if these nurses, so integral and vital in their work and support in this country are not seen as worth the time of day. However, in a drastic change during recent weeks, Mr Barclay appears to have switched to the side of the nurses, urging unions to help him make his case to the PM. This is ultimately a welcome change yet unfortunately, this revelation has come far too late.
The Government may have forgotten what the nurses did for them, but the nurses will never forget how the politicians chose to return the favour.