NHS workers speak out against low pay and unsafe staffing levels

The NHS staff shortage is endangering the lives of patients and health workers themselves. This was plainly displayed on september 6th when it was reported that 613 people had spent more than 12 hours on hospital trolleys waiting to be seen. This extreme pressure has driven many out of the profession with 182 nurse resignations in the last six months in the Belfast Trust and more than 3,000 unfilled nursing jobs in Northern Ireland. A charge nurse in Northern Ireland reflected their experience of short staffing in a Royal College of Nurse(RCN) report:

“…My heart breaks when I see how tired and stressed the nurses are. It is difficult trying to keep morale high and lead the team at this time. I am supposed to have 11 registered nurses on duty daily and I am lucky if I have five; the weekends are covered mostly by bank staff.”

Nurses in Northern Ireland are less likely to be paid enhanced rates for working unsocial hours, are more likely to work additional hours and are least likely to be paid for these additional hours than their counterparts in Britain. All of this was exasperated by the pandemic and the additional pressures placed on healthcare. One Nurse told The Socialist:

“We are exhausted and fearful for the future and we believe we are being treated with total disrespect. Pushed from pillar to post on the whim of managers.”

This is a product of years of underfunding, privatisation, pay freezes and disregard for health workers, by both the Stormont Executive and Westminster have undermined our public health system. The bill for agency staff soared  to £254 million last year. Underfunding and inadequate staffing is a clear attempt to prepare the ground for the privatisation of public health. 

The 3% pay offer for nurses is a complete slap in the face from the Tories. That Stormont is effectively following suit is rubbing salt in the wounds.  Pat Lawlor, a Socialist Party member and RCNmember in Belfast responded to the offer: 

“We have put ourselves at risk, some colleagues literally giving their lives fighting Covid, its an absolute disgrace health workers are being driven to food banks and poverty.”

“A real 15% pay rise is essential to restore the 10 years of wage cuts, it sends a message of respect, greatly assists recruitment that will  begin to stabilise our failing health service.”

Anger, frustration and burnout are widely and deeply felt throughout the entire health service where staff have been pushed to breaking point, and asked to go beyond. While facing a complete lack of respect from higher management and government politicians. One Nurse described what they saw as the hypocrisy of higher ups: 

“It has been daily that they (management) ask more and more from our nursing staff. There has been a total focus on claiming glory, looking good in the eyes of the public, forgetting the daily patients and caseloads that we cared for” 

The RCN has warned that thousands are contemplating leaving the NHS. Frontline staff report very high levels of exhaustion and despair, some even suffering from PTSD. It is critical that the mood of anger is channelled into an immediate and effective campaign for the full 15%, backed up with industrial action.When the UK government suggested the NHS pay rise would be 1% in March, the RCN swiftly set up a £35m industrial action strike fund, this was a clear statement of intent. It was militant industrial action that secured pay parity in Northern Ireland 2 years ago – such tactics are popular amongst workers everywhere and will win. 

By Sean Burns

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