‘Our fight in the NHS needs to come from everybody, the future of the NHS affects us all and a win for us is a win for our services and a step towards keeping the NHS public. We need all our unions to fight for the future of the NHS, not just the health unions.’
Holly Johnston, NHS nurse working in the north of England
Striking NHS staff are making the link between striking and the fight for the NHS as a whole.
NHS staff have been sounding the alarm on pay for well over a decade, often becoming so burnt out and disillusioned that they end up walking away. We have 135,000 NHS vacancies, and applications to nursing have fallen by 30%. New nurses are qualifying with up to £70,000 worth of student debt.
The government is refusing to negotiate on pay. People are now starting to see what this Tory government’s motive is – a devastating ramp up of privatisation. Ideas of charging people for GP appointments and for attending A&E are now being floated by the previous health secretary, and ex-banker Sajid Javid.
On the RCN picket lines, nurses speak about how they had PTSD from working during the height of the pandemic, unable to care for their dying patients adequately. They say it’s not much different now. There’s still not enough staff to give safe care on a non-strike day. Yes, staff are striking over pay. But they are also making the link between striking and the fight for the NHS as a whole. 13 years of deliberate underfunding has led us to this crisis.
Why are we striking?
Striking for us is absolutely about pay, after years of deliberate pay erosion. But it’s also about safety of our patients and privatisation. It’s about stopping the excuses that are being made to bring in private companies and outsource staff. It’s about putting funding directly into recruiting and retaining staff and ensuring we have a fully staffed workforce to get through the 7.2 million patients on waiting lists.
And our fight in the NHS needs to come from everybody, the future of the NHS affects us all and a win for us is a win for our services and a step towards keeping the NHS public. We need all our unions to fight for the future of the NHS, not just the health unions.
In my own area, oncology, we are struggling to staff the teenage cancer unit, and give the patients the specialist services they should have. 12,000 people on cancer treatment lists have been waiting more than three months. The delays of investigations and diagnosis are undoubtedly leading to more deaths and less treatment options.
Staff are unable to meet the demands of their workloads, with many unable to pay bills. 27% of hospital trusts now have staff food banks. Working agency shifts to attempt to make ends meet is the norm.
Student nurses are qualifying and then leaving within months of starting. And there is no workforce plan to replace our experienced colleagues, a third of whom will retire in the next five years.
Underpaid and overworked social care is having a massive impact on the NHS too. There is no care available for people to be discharged home to, so they end up staying in hospital longer than is needed. Much of the social care sector is privatised, non-unionised, and it has 165,000 vacancies.
Time to take action
The government has condemned the strikes as unsafe. Yet union members say that the NHS is unsafe every day of the year with Tory austerity.
I will be marching with my NHS colleagues on 11 March to demand the crisis in the NHS is addressed as a matter for urgency. Our patients cannot suffer any longer and we cannot continue to do the jobs of two or three people whilst our pay is continuously and deliberately eroded.
NHS staff and patients are at the forefront of fighting for the future of our Health Service. I urge all staff, supporters and patients to come out to defend our NHS on 11 March to show this government that we will not allow the destruction of the NHS, that we know that there is an alternative to privatisation.
We fight for a fully funded, publicly owned, free at the point of use National Health System to benefit the whole of society at a time when we see health inequalities worsen and the widening gap between the rich and the poor responsible for the death of countless thousands.
Holly Johnston is an NHS nurse working in the north of England
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