We need to talk about


Jacqueline Berry II  NOV 16 2016

I qualified 3 years ago. At the time the Francis Report into systemic failings at Mid Staffordshire NHS Trust was causing waves. The narrative surrounding the profession was a negative one. Once ‘selfless angels’, we had fallen to become lazy, uncaring and too posh to wash.
It seemed that a chorus of right wing media and politicians blamed our new found ‘neglectfulness’ on the fact that we now have degrees. Beyond the profoundly sexist idea that a largely female workforce can't possibly have both heart and brains simultaneously, there was a conscious attempt by the government and its media to denigrate the nursing profession.
For those who seek to privatise services, it is a strategy as old as the hills. Defund, defame then defraud. Since 2010 the value of our wages has been cut by 14% in real terms.  Since 2010 the number of nursing and midwifery vacancies in NHS England has soared to 28,000.
The NHS has traditionally found itself able to weather the nursing shortage by offering competitive pay, attracting workers from across the globe. However, under a Conservative Department of Health the sliding value of salaries has exacerbated the chronic underinvestment in nurse training programs. This approach is worsened to the the removal of the student bursary and the reality that a third of registered nurses are set to retire within a decade.
Without radical action, the nursing shortfall will have dire consequences for patient safety.
While making some hard-to-disagree-with recommendations, the Willis Review into nurse education offers little way forward for the sister of a busy medical ward, struggling to get by and staffed entirely by agency and unregistered staff. How can anyone provide a positive learning environment without adequate substantive staff to mentor the next generation? And what incentive is there for agency nurses to give up flexible hours and higher rates of pay to come back to the NHS? Perhaps these are questions outside Willis' remit, however they are of the utmost importance to those of us serious about providing high quality healthcare to all.
In the face of one insulting pay offer after another, our health unions (primarily UNISON and UNITE) have called members out for a grand total of 4 hours in two days of industrial action. Nobody takes the decision to withdraw their labour lightly, but the Junior Doctors' dispute shattered the illusion that it was not possible for those of us engaged in front line clinical practice to strike in a way which is both safe for the patients and effective as a weapon to pressure the employers.
Every year our unions put in a pay claim. Every year the employers refuse to negotiate outside of their pre-agreed pay envelope. Every year we are told the 0-1% award is the best we can hope for and to accept it. Over a period as long as the World War, NHS workers covered by the Agenda for Change agreement have endured this pay restraint. Little wonder many have voted with their feet.
The lack of action to stem the decline in pay has to be confronted head on. Scrap the Cap is a grassroots organisation campaigning against pay restraint in the NHS.  Get involved via our Facebook page. We are also supporting the national demonstration in defence of the Health Service "It's Our NHS" called by Health Campaigns Together on 4th March. Bring Your Banners.
The opinions here represent those of the author alone and do not nescesssarily represent those of Mind and Medicine. Any information provided is offered on an educational basis. Please see your doctor for health problems.