Nurses strikes: necessary or needless danger to health?
Charlie Gershinson analyses the players that serve as the impetus for the first RCN national strike since it’s inception 106 years ago.
The one subject on which politicians present at least a superficial united front is on the NHS. I can’t imagine many will forget the “clap for our NHS” movement in the early days of lockdown, which was universally supported by all politicians and public figures as a show of support.
Looking at the short-termism within the government’s health policy, however, the government has little regard for the staff or services provided under the NHS. Seen in recent years in the junior doctor strike and Adam Kay’s critically acclaimed book and television series This Is Going To Hurt, this trend has reared its head again with an unprecedented strike by the Royal College of Nurses (RCN).
The RCN strikes taking place on 15 and 20 December for twelve hours each day are seen as only the start to industrial action by healthcare workers, as junior doctors and ambulance workers are believed to be balloted to strike throughout early 2023. This came as Health Secretary Steve Barclay alleged that the RCN demanded a pay rise of 19.2 per cent, amounting to £10 billion. RCN general secretary Pat Cullen refused to recognise this figure.
Taking this at face value, such a figure would certainly appear like a massive increase in public expenditure during a time of double-digit inflation and when many are facing real-term pay cuts
Taking this at face value, such a figure would certainly appear like a massive increase in public expenditure during a time of double-digit inflation and when many are facing real-term pay cuts. Such a view, however, refuses to recognise the economic sacrifices which nurses and other healthcare professionals have taken over the course of the current Conservative government.
Since 2013, the average pay increase for public servants, including healthcare staff, has only been 1 per cent. Since 2013, inflation has risen on an average of 3.52 per cent, representing a massive real-terms pay cut since the Conservative Party entered government in 2010.
With decades-high levels of inflation, the chronic underinvestment in nurses pay has led to a bitter bite this year. In the 2022-23 fiscal year, nurses and health visitors are expected to have a real-terms pay cut of around 7 per cent. The pay cut for nurses’ starting pay is even harsher, reaching more than 10 per cent.
Such a sustained insult to healthcare professionals in this country has led to real-world consequences
Such a sustained insult to healthcare professionals in this country has led to real-world consequences. 2022 has given the NHS the bitter pill of the highest proportion of nurses leaving in any given year. Almost 12 per cent of nurses left this year, the largest in at least a decade.
As Barclay is seemingly unwilling to engage with the RCN, the shadow Health Secretary Wes Streeting commented “Why on earth is the health secretary refusing to negotiate with nurses? Patients already can’t get treated on time, strike action is the last thing they need, yet the government is letting this happen. Patients will never forgive the Conservatives for this negligence.”
While some may believe that during a sequel of the Winter of Discontent that the last thing the country needs is a nurses’ strike. They should instead consider that the nurses are the victims and the government the perpetrator, not vice versa. If those charged to ensure our health are unable to earn a decent pay, good working conditions and enough respect from those in the Department for Health and Social Care, industrial action should quite rightly be seen as an appropriate course of action.