Nurses at Kings College Hospital and the Maudsley bravely went to work from the start of the pandemic when it was known that there was no cure for COVID, when they didn’t have proper masks and Personal Protective Equipment or testing, writes Harriet Harman…
While most of us protected ourselves by staying at home, they were on the front line risking their own health to protect ours. Nurses and midwives working in the community continued to go into people’s homes.
They worked under intense pressure as COVID filled intensive care beds with desperately ill patients. And many nurses themselves fell ill with the disease.
They battled through the first wave and then again faced the intensity of the second wave which saw, at its peak, 34,336 in hospital and the total number of deaths top 120,000.
No wonder we clapped on our doorsteps in heartfelt gratitude. But we felt, and said, at the time that the important public service that they carried out deserved proper financial reward, not just applause.
Being largely a workforce of women, nursing, though much admired has always been underpaid.
And that is even more unfair as we see the increased professionalisation with additional responsibility for prescribing, carrying out procedures and using complex machines.
It’s emotionally and physically demanding work, involves night and weekend working and this is made harder by understaffing. And, particularly in our pressurised South London NHS, that has led to many of them “voting with their feet” and leaving meaning the loss of expertise and team continuity.
There’s a big concern that nursing vacancies, which have long been a problem, will dramatically accelerate at the end of the pandemic, just when the NHS needs to deal with the huge backlog of operations and untreated illness which has built up during the pandemic.
So, it was devastating when we heard that the government is proposing to the Pay Review Body which will examine nurses pay, that nurses only get one per cent.
This means, taking into account that inflation is expected to be more than one per cent over the period of the pay proposal, that represents a cut in the spending power of nurses.
It was no surprise that the chancellor was too cowardly to mention this in his Budget. And where have been the protests of our local Tory MPs. They praised the nurses during the pandemic.
They voted for a 2.1 per cent pay increase for 2021-22 as part of the NHS Funding Act 2020. And now instead of honouring that promise and rewarding their extraordinary work, Conservative MPs have gone quiet.
They should be telling the health secretary that he should insist that the chancellor goes back to his books and finds extra for the nurses.
And it should not be taken out of the NHS either. The chancellor should find the money from somewhere else. We don’t want to rob Peter to pay Paula.
The government are hoping that we’ll all soon forget about the extraordinary dedication of our nurses. But it’s clear from all the local people who have contacted me that we won’t.
They are sewing division by seeking to set people who work in struggling private businesses against the nurses by saying nurses should be happy that they’ve got a job when so many are facing unemployment.
We all know that many people have already lost their jobs and many more are threatened. The government should take steps to tackle that, not use it as an excuse to break their promise to nurses.