Why are nurses striking and what are they asking for? The ‘ask’ is not the 19% increase in money that the media is focusing on, the real ‘ask’ is about being fair and kind and just. It is about paying a nurse or doctor or pharmacist or physiotherapist fairly. They are now doing the job of one and a half or two people much of the time, as they constantly cover for lack of staff for many, many reasons.
Fairness and kindness
There is a clear case for treating nurses and the NHS with fairness and kindness. The Conservative government is reaping the outcome of its poor policies because of its failure to invest sufficiently in home grown training and education. Added to this, was its decision to abolish nurse bursaries – a strange decision given the current focus of economic and foreign policy as UK ‘goes it alone’.
The government’s Brexit policies led to the loss of quality nursing staff from Europe, many of whom loved working in the NHS and contributed significant expertise and skills. Between 2017 and 2019, more than 5,000 EEA-trained nurses and midwifes had left the NHS, with over half of them saying Brexit was a factor. For EU countries this has been a benefit as trained health staff returned to their mother countries.
Government policies fail to support NHS
The age profile of our population means we have an increasing number of dependent people with complex health and social care needs, but the government is failing to address this. There is a need for well-trained and skilled staff in both health and social care sectors.
The government’s immigration policies make the UK relatively unattractive to people coming here from overseas, and the cost of living here – including moving country and renting accommodation, getting children into school etc – is unattractive and stressful. Add to this those UK-trained clinicians currently working overseas who might be considering returning to the UK. The current state of the NHS has a profoundly negative impact and sadly, many such clinicians are increasingly unlikely to return.
Other countries have invested in new hospitals and health centre resources, such as the University Hospital of Valencia and many others across Europe. But our government is unwilling to do the same. Although the UK might have managed some ward upgrades, some improvements in A&E departments and so on, the evidence of the promised ‘new hospitals’ is difficult to find.
And the biggest failure of all, is the lie that was the 2016 promise of £350mn a week for the NHS on the Red Bus Tour. This money has never been seen, despite those repeated promises of Boris Johnson.
Nursing shortage and excessive workloads
Take for example, the children’s intensive care department at a Leeds hospital. This essential service requires 16 nurses to keep it running, but there are only nine or ten staff available. So the remaining nurses and other staff absorb the additional work. They have done this for the last three or more years, including through the pandemic, with no additional pay.
The latest NHS vacancy statistics show that the total number of vacancies in September 2022 was 133,446, a vacancy rate of 9.7% across the NHS. This represents an increase from the previous year, when the number of vacancies was 103,809 and the vacancy rate 7.9%.
Of the September vacancies, 9,053 (6.2%) were for medical posts and 47,496 (11.9%) were in nursing. Both sectors have seen increases in the number of vacancies from the previous year, during which there were 7,855 (5.6%) vacancies in medical posts and 39,931 (10.5%) in nursing.
These staffing shortages mean that the government is not even paying the full staff complement of the NHS, and has not done so for at least five years, so is actually saving public money.
Nursing is tough
The government has failed to recognise that patient care is complex and requires more skilled people to ensure safe, harm-free care. Managing people with long-term conditions is tricky and tough. Many patients have multiple health issues – heart disease, kidney disorders, diabetes, auto-immune system diseases, failing body systems requiring transplants, complex surgery needing extensive technical input… the list is endless.
On top of this is cancer care, with the increasing cure rate achieved as research reveals the need for complex assessment and treatments to get better outcomes. If you are tiring reading this, then imagine the impact of these long hours and increased workloads on tired clinicians who are covering shifts, reading patient notes, checking care provision and making decisions on outcomes. How much more likely are they to make poor decisions? Is this fair and kind?
The Tories are failing the NHS
The Tories these days struggle to be fair, kind and just to the people of the UK – the NHS and the nurses right now in particular. The cry of ‘where is it to come from?’ is disingenuous at best. The money should come from the government’s stewardship of the public’s tax money, and the realisation that investing in health and social care adequately will result in a healthier workforce – with more people in work earlier and sooner and even paying tax.
Maybe we could all contribute 1% more tax at higher levels of income to ensure that the people who are looking after us are being treated fairly and kindly. We would be returning to them the care that they provided throughout the pandemic and continue to provide every day in the NHS. Read some of the headlines:
‘Mum now 95, is back home after a bladder infection and received lovely care.’
‘Five year boy run over is making good progress and out of intensive care and could start school in late January 2023.’
The Tories fail us, they will fail your NHS and the nurses unless we support what is truly important in our lives, health and social care. Evidence of recent years suggest they struggle with the concepts of truth and reality and are unable to complete and finish anything for the benefit of all of us.
Support the nurses and they will return it 100 times over. Write to or call your MP. And remember, the closer we get to having to pay an average 10% of our salaries on private healthcare, the more cost-effective and wonderful the NHS looks. Fight for it now, before it’s too late.