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Nurses are ‘living in poverty and many can no longer afford to stay’ in the NHS, union warns

Royal College of Nursing demands government ministers reopen pay talks after members rejected the latest below-inflation deal in England

NURSES are “living in poverty and many are quitting because they can no longer afford to stay” in the austerity-hit NHS, the world’s biggest nursing union warned today as it demanded Tory ministers reopen pay talks.

Nurses rejected the government’s latest below-inflation deal in England because it “isn’t sufficient to address those really critical issues,” Royal College of Nursing head Pat Cullen charged at the union’s 2023 conference in Brighton.

The package, consisting of a one-off payment for 2022-23 and 5 per cent for the current financial year, was voted down by both RCN and Unite members in ballots last month.

Downing Street — which is set to impose the deal after Unison, GMB and unions representing midwives and physiotherapists backed it — is bracing itself for more strikes in the long-running dispute as RCN members prepare to reballot for a new six-month walkout mandate next week.

Their colleagues in Wales have also rejected an improved but still below-inflation offer from devolved Labour ministers.

Referring to the union’s annual meet up on the south coast, Ms Cullen told ITV’s Good Morning Britain that she expected to hear “harrowing” stories of how her key worker members are struggling to get by.

“We need to address the absolute crisis that we’re in within the health service and the crisis that our nursing staff find themselves in,” she said.

“Many of our nurses are living in poverty and having to leave the profession simply because they can no longer afford to stay in it.

“We can’t continue on with this – we need to do something urgently and that’s what our thousands of members are urging this government to do.”

She called on Tory ministers to take immediate action to avoid “going into the winter months with more strikes.

“We actually should be able to resolve this now — get around the table and do it for nursing and do it for patients,” the union leader stressed.

The Department of Health repeatedly claimed there was “no more money” for NHS staff, before finding some in March to improve upon its initial offer of just 3 per cent. 

Nurse Karma McKeefery encouraged conference delegates to “feel proud that it was our historic strike action that eventually forced the government to talks, leading to the slightly improved final offer.

“Our members do not agree that this is the final offer. Once the lump sum they tempted us with has gone directly to the energy companies, what we are left with still amounts to a pay cut that will do nothing to aid recruitment and retention of nursing staff.”

A “proper restorative pay rise will pay for itself as recruitment and retention of nurses into the NHS would save the billions of pounds spent each year on expensive agency nursing fees,” the Lancashire East delegate said.

“We will ballot again and we will win,” she predicted. “Let’s make the voice of nursing even louder this time.

“It’s time for us to stand up for ourselves as a profession — stand up for our patients and our precious NHS.”

South-west London healthcare assistant Anna Pichierri warned the NHS dispute is “part of a social and political struggle against this Tory racist and anti-working class government.”

And, in a direct plea to the Prime Minister, A&E worker Lyndsey Curtis-Dawson said: “Rishi Sunak — are you listening? We aren’t going away.”

Speakers also urged solidarity with the British Medical Association, whose junior doctor members are on a different contract and in dispute in both England and Scotland.

Senior doctors south of the border could soon join them after their strike ballot opened today.

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