Nurses strike: RCN members say ‘dangerous’ working conditions and ‘burnout’ has driven them to picket lines

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Nurses across England, Wales and Northern Ireland are taking part in the biggest strike in NHS history today (15 December) over pay and staffing issues.

The RCN wants a 19% pay rise and says below inflation increases are compromising patient care by making it hard to both attract and retain nurses. But the government says the RCN’s demand is unaffordable and that it has met independent recommendations on pay

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Those striking are now gathering outside hospitals and have been speaking about why they’ve taken the decision to take industrial action.

Jane, who declined to give her surname, is a nurse at the Royal Victoria Infirmary, Newcastle. She said: “It is very cold and I would rather be in work. It was a hard decision to strike, but it is needed. We just need some fair pay.”

Another nurse, who declined to be named, added: “This is for the safety of the general public using the health care system and for the future of the NHS.”

Picket line supervisor Alison, who declined to give her surname, said: “There’s one reason I am striking and that is patient safety which has been compromised by the sheer reduction in the number of nurses. People are burning or burnt out and the knock-on effect is just untenable.

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“We have had years of below-inflation pay increases and some people are struggling to make ends meet. It’s a sad day when people cannot afford to come to work. If people find it more attractive and less stressful to work elsewhere, we are not going to bring in the nurses we need, or keep the ones we have got.”

Elsewhere in Liverpool, staff nurse Joanne McArthur, 51, on the picket line outside Aintree University Hospital, said: “We’ve got nurses that are leaving because of unsafe practices on the ward, not being able to give the patients the patient care that they deserve.

“We come into this profession for that, so that we can give what we’ve been trained to do, and unfortunately we’re just not able to do that because of the way the situation is.

She added: “You’ll go on duty and there’ll be supposedly four staff nurses on and you’ll end up with two. That’s to look after 28 patients which is really, really dangerous.”

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Members of the Royal College of Nursing will strike at 76 NHS hospitals and trusts as part of a two-day long strikeMembers of the Royal College of Nursing will strike at 76 NHS hospitals and trusts as part of a two-day long strike
Members of the Royal College of Nursing will strike at 76 NHS hospitals and trusts as part of a two-day long strike | Kim Mogg/NationalWorld

In Bristol, Paula Byrne, 58, a Nurse Specialist at the Bristol Royal Infirmary, said: ‘’I’ve been a nurse for 40 years next year and I have real concerns, among myself and my colleagues, about the future of nursing.

“Daily we’re seeing nurses working under great stress with great challenge, and contributing an enormous amount of charity and good will, to maintain patient care so that’s a real concern for me. You’re seeing burnouts, you’re seeing thousands of nurse leaving the profession.

“What we have seen over the last ten years is austerity, austerity measures, public sector pay cuts, rising costs and we find that nurses now their daily living and quality of living has gone downhill.

‘’The staffing in the NHS is the most valuable asset it has – so if you don’t protect that asset, we’re not going to have a future in healthcare because there won’t be any nurses.

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‘’This isn’t about making things difficult for patients, though we do appreciate that there’s going to be some suffering involved. Unfortunately that’s where we’re at to hopefully bring about some change.”

Daniel Tumino, 39, senior nurse in neonatal intensive care, added: ‘’We’re striking for our safety and the safety of our patients. The pay is getting very low, especially in my unit, we’re losing nurses day to day.

‘’We used to be made up on 150 nurses looking after 32 beds, but in the last three years we’ve had to drop down to 24 beds due to nurses leaving – because we only have 110 nurses now. ‘Nurses would rather look at other jobs for more pay or the same pay but with less responsibility.

“Sometimes we’re working without breaks, sometimes we have to stay to do overtime and we’re not paid for it. You finish late and you have to be back at 7am on the dot. We do it for our patients, but sometimes you don’t have time to look after yourself and your own family.”

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Mr Tumino said people are getting “stressed and tired” and that “sometimes you think I cannot do this anymore”. He added: ‘’I would like a pay rise equal to inflation, that’s all. They’ve not been doing that for 12 years. Last year we got a 3% pay rise and they took off 2% for national insurance – so they gave 3% and took 2%, it’s not right.’’

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