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I’m a newly qualified nurse. Here’s why I rejected the insulting 5% pay offer

OPINION: After tax, National Insurance, pension payments and student loan repayments, I’d have got £15 extra a week

14 April 2023, 4.15pm

Striking nurses outside University College Hospital in London, January 2023


Vuk Valcic/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

In my first role as a newly qualified nurse in England last year, I didn’t work a single shift where there were enough nurses on duty. Even when I wasn’t on shift, I knew there were never enough nurses. Every day, the group chat for my ward would light up with requests for people to come in on their days off.

It all got too much for me, and a lot of my colleagues. I was signing leaving cards almost weekly, it felt like a revolving door. It was a vicious cycle, nurses pushed to the edge by short staffing would quit – but there weren’t any permanent replacements being brought in, just a few agency staff picking up shifts or nurses from other areas being asked to come and support us.

It’s these working conditions that meant I could not vote for the government’s proposed 5% pay increase, offered to nurses last month in a bid to end the strikes. With the Royal College of Nursing having this afternoon announced that nurses have rejected the offer, it appears that many of my colleagues found it just as insulting as I did.

For the amount of work nurses do, day in and day out, the offer of a 5% pay bump and a one-off payment made a mockery of our profession. After tax, National Insurance, pension payments and student loan repayments, I’d have got £15 extra a week.

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What can £15 get me in the current cost of living crisis? It’d pay a tiny part of the increase in my council tax and energy bills but would still leave me out of pocket and ending each month with no money left to put aside in my savings.

It’s not just about the money either – patient safety is paramount. With such severe staffing shortages, I never felt I could give my all to each of my patients. At any given time I’d have a minimum of 10 complex patients – some with bleeds, others requiring one-to-one attention due to being at risk of falling – and still need to spend time with a patient who is dying and support their family, as well as attending to other people who weren’t feeling well or needed medications.

It was too much. I’d come home from work every single night at 8pm and spend my evening worrying: ‘Have I done enough for these patients?’ ‘I hope I haven’t missed something crucial that could harm somebody.’

Eventually, I decided enough was enough. Like a number of my fellow graduates, I left my job on the ward to work as a community staff nurse – a role I felt would give me a better work-life balance and would mean I could stop laying in bed wide awake questioning everything I had done in my 12-hour shift.

People often say nursing isn’t about the money. It’s true that we do it because we care, because we’re compassionate and because we want to make a difference to people who often are going through hard times. But we still need to be paid a decent wage. What I see and do every day at work is surely worth more than £14 an hour.

Nurses are not selfish. No one working in the NHS is selfish. I trained during the pandemic. While the majority of the country stayed home, I went out on an unpaid placement to care for others. I wish the government could recognise that. I’d like to see ministers spend 12 hours on their feet in a ward. I don’t think they’d still be telling us our working conditions are fine.

The so-called pay rise was a joke. They tried to tempt us with a one-off payment worth 6% of our salary, but that still wasn’t good enough. We went on strike for a reason and that reason was not 5%. We deserve better.

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