I have worked as a nurse in the NHS for more than ten years and it has been gut-wrenching to watch services be decimated. I work in child and adolescent mental health, and we are constantly criticised for our waiting lists and high thresholds for referrals. We are giving our all, but it is never going to be good enough with the resources we currently have. Vacancies sit unfilled for months on end, while we go for weeks on end with no beds – NHS or private – available. We are swimming against the tide and it cannot go on. A failure to protect NHS budgets is made worse by cuts to social care, which have added huge pressure since there are not enough services to protect vulnerable people in our communities.
One year ago, I co-founded the grassroots campaign group NHS Workers Say No, along with four colleagues. We wanted to draw attention to the fact that we had entered a global pandemic with a shortage of 100,000 staff, and to push unions to defend us and our patients more fiercely. The NHS and its staff have proved their worth during the pandemic, but we have had to work in unimaginable conditions, with colleagues becoming sick and dying. Many work more than 40 hours a week, and some rely on food banks to make ends meet.
I completely reject the argument that we cannot afford a substantial pay increase. This is about political choices. The government can choose to invest in and strengthen our services, but instead it continues to abuse and degrade us all. A study by the London Economics consultancy, published earlier this year, found that the state would recover at least 80% of the cost of a substantial pay increase for NHS workers, with more taxes going to the Treasury and more consumer spending. That the government doesn’t want to do this raises suspicions that it wants us to fail, so it can continue with the creeping privatisation already underway.
What we are seeing now is real anger, but we have hard work to do if we are going to achieve real results. The consequences of not addressing our dangerously depleted workforce will affect us all. We have a summer of work ahead of us, as our unions ballot for industrial action. We need to continue to mobilise, to encourage colleagues not in a union to join up, and to increase the pressure in fighting for what we are owed.
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