April 20, 2024

100,000 Nurses Are Going On Strike

Natalie worked through Covid and says amongst nurses who’ve stayed on, much of the trauma of the pandemic is resurfacing.

“I kind of put it in a box at that time. But I’m dealing with it now. ”

Patient safety is at risk because of the workforce crisis, and poor pay exacerbates the situation as the cost of living crisis continues. Several trusts in Natalie’s areas now run food banks for nurses – at Natalie’s hospital, they have an anonymous, help-yourself one to prevent people from going without because of the stigma.

Natalie doesn’t use her food bank, but when I spoke to her on 8 December, she still hadn’t turned on her heating, despite the first frost appearing the night before we spoke. In the evenings, she and her partner go to bed early to avoid using more energy. She’s also given up her car and walks to and from work to save petrol money. She says she wonders how others cope when NHS staff have to turn to these measures.

Maxine Wade, 31, is a nurse associate in Yorkshire. She joined the NHS as a healthcare assistant in 2013 and qualified as a nurse associate in June. She’s striking one of the days, then working as a picket line supervisor on her day off.

Maxine says her role is now increasingly similar to a nurse’s. The nursing associate role was introduced after the Mid Staffs scandal and the Francis Report. They don’t have the same responsibility as nurses (for example, taking charge of a shift), nor are they paid as much. When the role was launched in 2018, experts warned that people in the role could be exploited as a cheap substitute for nurses.

“You feel like you have to come back before you’re ready because in this line of work, if you don’t turn up, that makes it unsafe. ”

Nurse associates are also strongly encouraged to train as nurses. Still, many report a lack of opportunities to do so: in 2019, Health Education England’s chief nurse admitted that of the 80% who’d like to upskill, only 40-50% would go on to qualify.

There are staffing shortages everywhere, Maxine says, and despite qualifying six months ago, she’s already been signed off with stress. But like many nurses, she says it’s hard to take leave when you know it leaves colleagues in the lurch.

“You feel like you have to come back before you’re ready because in this line of work, if you don’t turn up, that makes it unsafe,” she says. “It means potentially leaving your colleagues in it – and you’ve worked those kinds of shifts, and you know what it’s like. There’s very little support because everyone’s in the same boat. It feels like it’s never-ending. ” Although pay is not her main reason for striking, Maxine is a mother of one and says they don’t put the heating on much this year.

Morale is rock-bottom, she says: “There aren’t any positives of the job anymore. It’s long hours, it’s antisocial, it’s badly paid, it’s emotionally and physically taxing, and if you get it really wrong, not only can you end up injuring or killing someone, you can end up in prison.

“Nurses don’t leave because they don’t care. It’s because they actually decide to value themselves. I don’t begrudge them at all. But if I was to leave I don’t want it to be because I feel like I just can’t manage – I’m not done with nursing yet. ”

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