'Why should we wait?'

In Part 2 of our two-part series on NHS pay justice, Unite health members explain why they need a pay rise now

Reading time: 7 min

In Part 1 of our two-part series on NHS pay justice, we heard from A&E nurse and Unite branch secretary Mark Boothroyd, as well as health visitor and Unite rep Victoria Thorpe – both at Guy’s and St Thomas’ Hospital Trust.

They told UniteLIVE of the tremendous risk to their lives they faced at the height of the pandemic. Now they explain why all NHS staff deserve a pay rise now.

 ‘The money is there’

When health secretary Matt Hancock said in May, at the height of the coronavirus pandemic, that he would do everything in his power to reward NHS staff for their sacrifices, many health workers gave him the benefit of the doubt.

 “When it comes to how we reward people for their efforts in this crisis, what I can tell you is that as the Health Secretary I will be making sure that we fight to have that fair reward,” Hancock pledged.

But more than two months later, amid a pandemic that is far from over, with many predicting an imminent second wave, NHS staff are still making the very same sacrifices but with no reward in sight.

Mark, Victoria and other NHS staff last month took part in a demo (pictured), where NHS staff marched from St Thomas’ Hospital to Downing Street to demand an early pay rise for all their hard work and sacrifice.

The government has justified denying the majority of NHS staff a pay rise last month by noting that they are part of the Agenda for Change pay deal struck in 2018 and the pay deal isn’t due to expire until April next year, when their pay will be reviewed.

While dentists and doctors were part of the public sector pay rise announced in July, a majority of NHS staff were excluded, such as nurses, paramedics, cleaners, porters and many more.

Now, they’re preparing to march again on Saturday (August 8) in demos across the country.

Unite, which has a 100,000 members in the health service, is supporting its members wishing to attend the protests, so that the government can see the depth of discontent and frustration of NHS staff who continue to be in the frontline in the battle against Covid-19.

Mark told UniteLIVE why an early pay rise for all NHS staff is so important – and why waiting until next year is not an option.

“One it’s for recognition for everyone’s hard work during the Covid pandemic, and two we need to make up for everything we’ve lost in the last 10 years,” he said, noting that pay freezes and neglible pay rises over the last decade have meant he and his colleagues are earning less in real-terms than they did back in 2010.

He adds that patient safety is another vital reason that NHS staff need a pay rise.

“Every year I’ve been a nurse since 2012, the number of nursing vacancies has only got worse,” he said. “There were about 10,000 when I started and now there’s about 40,000. People are leaving the service because we’re all constantly working so hard all the time for little pay in understaffed wards unable to provide good patient care. People understandably get fed up so they leave and the cycle repeats itself. We need pay rise to keep people in the service and fill the vacancies so we can actually provide safe patient care.”

Mark said staff are angry that the government has essentially asked NHS staff to wait until next year for a pay rise.

“Why should we wait? We’ve made huge sacrifices, this pay deal was agreed three years ago, way before the Covid-19 pandemic and we’re in different circumstances now,” he said.

“The government for years has claimed they had to implement austerity because there was no money. Well now they’ve had to find money for all this Covid-19 spending. The cost of borrowing is at an all-time low and this doesn’t even factor into the account that the government can easily tax companies like Amazon which have made a fortune during the pandemic.

“The money is there. It’s just the government is choosing not to take it — and then trying to fob us off with lame excuses. They can find the money and they should find the money; if they don’t it just shows that they don’t care about NHS staff.”

‘Clapping won’t pay our bills’

Victoria agreed.

“Boris Johnson received care from the NHS when he had Covid-19 and he came out publicly about all that he went through and if it were not for those two nurses who were by his side, he might not be alive today,” she said.

“The pandemic has exposed to the public exactly what we do – from band 1s all the way to band 9s – and the sacrifices we’ve made. We were the ones on the frontlines, we were the ones who left our families with the prospect of possibly never seeing them again if we succumbed to the virus. And still, despite all our sacrifices, there are some of us in the health service who can’t make ends meet, who have to turn to food banks. This is unacceptable. We expected to get a pay rise; instead we get a clap in the face. Clapping isn’t going to pay our bills.”

Both Mark and Victoria urged other NHS staff to take part in Saturday’s demos and other future protests to continue in the fight for NHS pay justice.

“This is a chance for us to stand up collectively and get redress for all the hard work and sacrifices we’ve made during this pandemic and also for the last ten years,” Mark said.  “It’s our good will that’s kept the NHS going. And we’ve put up with a constant refrain that there’s no money but now it’s our turn to force the money out of the government’s hands. We can only do that through mass collective action so we need to see everyone out on the street on Saturday.”

Victoria added that she and her colleagues need support from the public as well.

“We ask all people who care about the NHS to come out on Saturday and join us. The public says it wants to protect the NHS – well, we are the NHS and that is what these protests are all about, protecting the NHS. We need to be valued; we need the pay we deserve.”

Find out more about Saturday’s protests, and how you can take part, here.

By Hajera Blagg

Pic by Mark Thomas

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