Underpaid, traumatised and leaving…

NHS workers need 15% rise and full funding

Demanding a 15% pay rise for NHS workers, 8th August 2020, Manchester, photo Sally G

Demanding a 15% pay rise for NHS workers, 8th August 2020, Manchester, photo Sally G   (Click to enlarge: opens in new window)

Ruth Byrne, NHS worker

As NHS staff face the second wave of Covid-19, we are also preparing another round of protests on 17 October calling for a pay rise.

Health and care staff put their lives on the line every day during the first wave of Covid-19, often with not enough or inadequate PPE. The rise we are asking for seems tiny when you think of the role workers played in holding the line.

The grassroots protests are calling for a 15% pay rise. Several unions are now calling for 15% or £3,000, whichever is higher. This should be just the start – most staff would need further rises even to match the pay they received before the Con-Dem coalition started slashing public sector wages in 2010.

36% of nurses are thinking about leaving the NHS in the next year, mainly due to low pay and the way they were treated during the Covid-19 crisis, according to a survey by the Royal College of Nursing. Already, 28% of nurses and health visitors leave their posts within three years of starting, finds the King’s Fund.

The failures of the government have turned the rush of health professionals who came back to help the NHS during the first wave into a flood in the other direction.

It’s not like the government isn’t prepared to spend public money like water when it comes to handing out contracts to their friends in private companies. Notorious outsourcer Serco has received contracts for Covid-19 contact tracing worth up to £432 million, and for test centres worth £45 million.

According to doctors’ union BMA, setting up Nightingale hospitals for three months cost around £350 million – yet they only treated around 100 patients.

Many NHS workers are furious that the testing service run so disastrously by Serco is allowed to brand itself as NHS. “It’s not the NHS!” is a familiar cry.

Meanwhile, as Covid-19 cases increase, NHS labs are forced to prioritise Covid-19 tests, which means other urgent tests cannot always be done. The difference between privatised services and the NHS is that the first duty of the NHS is to patients, not company profits.

Staff still feel traumatised by the first wave. Many felt utterly unprepared for it.

Whole hospitals were unrecognisable. Staff were redeployed from very different jobs straight into high-risk areas like intensive care. They speak of the helplessness they felt as the normal treatments didn’t work, watching patients suffer and die. Many have also lost valued colleagues to the disease.

Time off sick for stress and anxiety-related issues soared by 37% immediately after the height of the first wave. It is very frustrating seeing everything the government was warned about happening again.

The grassroots movement for a 15% pay rise has shown the huge anger and willingness to fight of NHS staff. It is absolutely crucial that the unions begin to harness that anger and determination, and actively prepare to call and coordinate strike action to demand a proper rise for all NHS staff.

This weak, divided government could be forced to U-turn on this as well. And this fight should be linked to calls for mass hiring and investment in NHS facilities, with all testing, health and care services brought fully into the public sector.