Photograph: Peter Byrne/PA
After the Royal College of Nursing announced its members would go on strike for the first time in the fortnight before Christmas, Matt Smith, a senior nurse at a children’s intensive care unit in London, explains why he plans to stop working.
I never thought that as a nurse I would go on strike but the mistreatment of UK healthcare workers over the last decade means this is now our only option. The nurses’ strike has been a long time coming.
I have worked in hospitals in London since 2004 and during this time my pay has not kept pace with inflation. With wages stagnating, more and more staff leave the NHS, putting greater pressure on those who stay behind. The work is more stressful and tiring, nurses have to work extra shifts on their days off to be able to pay the bills and then get sick because of it.
Nurses are running out and there is no reward for it. You’re just tired all the time – some days I walk into work fearing what it’s going to be like. We are run down and morale is low.
It is also becoming very difficult to retain staff. The ward where I work had many European nurses; since Brexit we have had a strong reduction: many have left the United Kingdom. Others leave for other professions. When healthcare professionals can be paid more by working in a shop, with better work-life balance, then the system is clearly broken.
Patient safety is put at risk on a daily basis. You see it with patients who are stuck in ambulances and not getting proper care. Or those stuck in the hospital longer, with complications.
The nurses are in trouble. When I started out, there was never any talk of food banks. There are now hospitals installing them because staff cannot afford to buy the essentials. The situation has worsened, especially now with the cost-of-living crisis. I can’t afford to live near the hospital, and… [this year] trips to London increased by 4-5%. Then there is the increase in the cost of food, petrol and energy.
The wage premium this year has been ridiculous. As a senior nurse, mine was 1.8%, far below the current level of inflation. It’s a pay cut. We’ve had a 20% loss of earnings over the last 10 years. We’re not asking for a pay raise, we’re asking for salary resets to get us back to where the salary had been. Allocating 5% more than inflation will go some way to correcting the historic wage cuts we’ve had over the past decade with conservative austerity measures previously and now the cost-of-living crisis.
I started nursing to take care of people and going on strike was something I never thought I’d do. But now we’re at the point where it’s the last thing we can do. Patients are put at risk on a daily basis and without something changing, things will get worse. The NHS is on the brink.
We know we are not the only ones to suffer, and we recognize that some people will find what we ask upsetting. It’s not about getting a raise, it’s about restoring pay. It’s about making the NHS work.