Nurses strike: NHS workers march on Downing Street demanding funding for ‘unsafe’ health service

Hundreds of striking nurses braved the cold this afternoon as they marched on Downing Street to “save the NHS”.

A nurse has slammed the government’s proposed minimum staffing levels for healthcare strikes by arguing the NHS is so understaffed that hospitals are already “unsafe.”

Nurses marked today’s strike action by marching from University College Hospital to Number 10 Downing Street as they held banners that read “save the NHS”. Chants of “claps don’t pay the bills” could be heard as they crossed Trafalgar Square, with passing cars beeping their horns and rolling down windows to yell their support.

One nurse, who has worked in the NHS for a decade, told NationalWorld she was there because she “cares about her patients” - stating the healthcare service was in “crisis” and this was a matter of “safety”. But she also said she was there to protest against the government’s response to the situation - taking particular issue with ministers’ recent anti-strike legislation.

They say they want minimum staffing levels for safety, but we’ve been saying for years that our staffing levels are unsafe due to shortages,” she said. “So why are they only listening when it suits them?”

It comes as Royal College of Nursing members at more than 55 NHS trusts across England took part in unprecedented walkouts, striking today (18 January) and tomorrow (19 January) as they demand better pay and better working conditions. Coordinated NHS industrial action is also planned for next month, where ambulance workers and nurses will walk out on the same day (6 February).

Hundreds of striking nurses braved the cold this afternoon as they marched on Downing Street to “save the NHS”. Credit: Claudia Marquis / LondonWorld

Speaking outside Downing Street, intensive care nurse Mel said it’s “heartbreaking” to see desperate patients without beds. She told NationalWorld: “It’s a crisis - there simply aren’t enough staff to give proper care to the patients who need it. If things continue like this, we’re going to lose even more of our workforce, which will be a really scary place to be.”

Steel, who works in the same hospital as Mel, added: “We’re doing the work of three or four people, but we’re getting paid for less than one. It’s unfair, it’s unsafe. We’ve been saving lives, but who will save us?”

Nurses Mel and Steel, who work in intensive care, joined the NHS march.

Also joining the march was Lulu, who has been a nurse for 15 years. She said she didn’t want to be striking - but had to for the sake of her patients: “We went into nursing because we want to help people. But we can’t help people at the moment, because of how critical the situation is. So that’s why we’re here.”

She added that the NHS has long been in crisis - but that Covid-19 finally highlighted how “burnt out” staff are, as well as how “underfunded” the service is. “We were sharing visors during a pandemic caused by an airborne virus. If that doesn’t prove we need better funding, I don’t know what will.”

Meanwhile, one of the main concerns of Katerina, who has been a nurse for a decade, is that there will be a “mass walkout”, with thousands ditching the profession if the government continues to refuse a pay rise. “We’re being worked to the bone, so I would understand why. But it’s a terrifying prospect as the situation is already dire - we can’t afford to lose any more staff.”

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has repeatedly defended the existing NHS budget. He recently told the BBC: “There is record funding already going into the NHS … in spite of the difficult decisions we have had to make to get a grip of borrowing and tackle inflation.”

Katerina said she she is concerned that nurses will quit the workforce if the government doesn’t offer a pay rise - worsening the staff shortage issue.

Stories of severely ill patients stuck at home or in ambulances have shocked the nation in recent months, while doctors have warned that hundreds of patients are dying due to delayed emergency care.