A Government recommendation to increase pay for nurses and other healthcare staff by 1% has been branded an “insult” and “hypocrisy in its greatest form” by NHS workers.
The Unite union, which represents tens of thousands of health service staff, has warned of industrial action amid growing anger at the proposals, while the Royal College of Nursing announced it will set up a £35 million industrial action fund in response.
Holly Turner, a nurse from Colchester, told the PA news agency it is “absolutely devastating to see (the Government) place no value in us whatsoever”.
She said: “Strike action would be a complete last resort for us and it would have to be something that could be planned carefully in order to keep our patients safe because, for all NHS staff, patient safety is priority.
“But long term, if we’re going to keep our patients safe, if we need to take industrial action in order to do that, I think we will.”
She added: “We are exhausted, we are demoralised, we are fed up — but there is also an increased level of anger.”
Multiple healthcare staff said the proposal would see them take home around £3.50 extra per week.
Ameera Sheikh, an intensive care nurse and Unite union representative, said increasing costs of living had left people struggling on stagnant wages. She said the support the Government had shown earlier in the pandemic now feels “fake”.
“We have treated people from the lowest socio-economic backgrounds to quite literally the leader of the country,” she said.
“We have sacrificed so much since the start of the pandemic, and that includes moving out of our family homes to live close to the hospital and protect our families and live in complete isolation, which is something that I’ve actually had to do.
“We are facing an increasingly dangerous workload in the intensive care unit, and a lot of staff being redeployed to ICU without basic intensive care training. Also, the lack of PPE and having to reuse PPE or wear expired PPE and risking our lives.”
Health minister Nadine Dorries gave a series of media interviews on Friday defending the Government’s position, saying nurses have received a 12% increase in pay over the last three years and the average nurse’s salary is around £34,000.
However, frontline workers have branded these claims “lies”.
Kelly Robbins, a nurse working in primary care in Brighton, said: “We listen to them on TV and they are lying, and it’s just painful and really debilitating to hear them say that.”
She added: “We know that they make choices, political priorities as to where the money is spent, and so we know that there is money there, effectively to do this, and it just does seem like a massive insult.”
Kirsty Brewerton, a clinical sister from Coventry, said the move is an “absolute disgrace”.
“How the Government can say there’s no money beggars belief. The billions that they spent on Test and Trace, the PPE contracts that were not appropriate for use.”
An experienced nurse, Ms Brewerton believes that this latest blow will lead to senior colleagues leaving the profession.
Mel, a staff nurse, described the Government’s proposed 1% pay rise as an “insult” and “hypocrisy in its greatest form”.
She said: “It really isn’t true remuneration for the real-time pay cut that we have seen over the last decade.
“We have healthcare staff using food banks, so £3.50 is not going to improve their situation in any way, shape or form.
“I am angry beyond words both for myself but for my colleagues who I see struggle daily.”
She said staff already feel demoralised and warned more will leave the front line without proper recognition.
“The phrase ‘NHS heroes’ – we are not heroes and we don’t want to be hailed as heroes, we are a professional body and we want recognition for the work we have done, not just during the pandemic,” she added.
“We have absolutely tried our best, but there has to be a line. We are still human at the end of the day, we are still people who come home and crumble at the thought of the number of deaths we’ve seen.”
Eve, a nurse in central London, told PA she and her colleagues are exhausted and coping with “severe PTSD”.
She said: “We now have no choice, we must strike now. How else can we get our voice heard? Claps don’t pay our bills or feed our families.
“A 15% pay rise is all we are asking for, but 1% is all we are worth to this Government.”
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