More proof if you needed it that NHS nurses and the RCN are right to be striking

protest sign reads "started with a clap, ended with a slap" representing the RCN and nurses NHS strike
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As the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) moves towards a 48-hour strike, new figures reveal what the union calls an “exodus” of young nurses from the NHS. The news is hardly surprising, though, given the RCN strikes have partly been over nurses’ appalling pay.

Nurses: everybody out – again…?

After strikes on 6 and 7 February, the RCN has now warned the Tory government that it’s moving to get nurses to walk out for a full 48 hours. This would include previously protected NHS areas, like A&E. As Nursing Notes wrote:

The move by the union is designed to break the deadlock and prevent months of disruption.

Previous strikes were over pay and conditions. As the Canary previously reported:

In 2010, the coalition government froze public sector pay for two years, then imposed a 1% fixed increase. This year, the Tories have capped NHS pay rises at 4% for most staff, while inflation is over 10%. The end result is that since 2010, the Tories have cut around £4,300 from nurses’ real-terms pay.

Now, a new report shows the direct impact of the government’s real-terms pay cuts – and it adds weight to nurses’ arguments over strikes.

RCN: an “exodus” of staff

The RCN has released its Valuing Nursing in the UK – Staffing for Safe and Effective Care report. The union said in a press release that the analysis looks at:

Read on...

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the issues contributing to the poor retention of nursing staff, the reasons why they’re leaving, and calls for immediate action from the UK governments.

The union said:

The report shows that between 2018 and 2022, nearly 43,000 people aged 21 to 50 left the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) register. It also finds the number of people leaving the NMC register increased by 9% from 2020-21 on the previous year and increased by a further 3% in 2022.

In the report, the RCN blames what it calls the “exodus” of nurses on years of government underfunding. This includes over a decade of real-terms pay cuts. The report highlights that nurses leaving are often younger ones, and the RCN is calling for an immediate, substantial pay rise for nursing staff. The report also looks at other reasons for nurses leaving the NHS. The union said these included:

  • Insufficient staffing to ensure patient safety.
  • Harassment and discrimination in the workplace.
  • A lack of career progression.
  • Unsafe working conditions.

A ‘crisis unfolding before our eyes’

RCN general secretary and chief executive Pat Cullen said:

It’s deeply worrying that nurses aren’t just choosing to retire early but are quitting the NHS and the profession entirely, when they’re only a few years into their career.

These findings speak volumes about the dire state that ministers have allowed nursing to fall into through years of underfunding and neglect. At the same time, recent… figures highlight that we aren’t only losing a record number of experienced nurses from the NHS, we’re also going to have less joining the profession. This can only mean even more vacancies in the future.

Cullen continued:

Negligence towards addressing vacancies is having a devastating impact on patient care and is why our members took to picket lines in England again last week. Ministers cannot blame the pandemic and other winter pressures for the crisis unfolding before our eyes – this has been a long time in the making yet the government has consistently ignored clear signs. They must offer fair pay rises to help stop the exodus.

It’s interesting that the RCN has warned the Tories of a 48-hour walk out at the same time as releasing its report – hitting the government with a double whammy, if you like. So now nurses must wait and see what the Tories do. However, what is clear is that the situation NHS staff are in has been unsustainable for a long time. Whether the Tories act or not remains to be seen.

Featured image via Ehimetalor Akhere Unuabona – Unsplash 

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