Thousands of NHS workers have protested across the UK calling for fair pay for NHS staff and true recognition of their work during the pandemic.
More than 30 marches were planned on Saturday as anger grows about an absence of action to match gestures such as weekly applause for healthcare workers.
Last month, the government announced a pay rise for NHS doctors but not nurses and other workers, in a move unions described as “the final straw” after real terms cuts of thousands of pounds to nurse since 2010 due to a failure to raise wages with inflation.
At the protest in central London, Dave Carr, a critical care nurse at St Thomas’ hospital in London – where Boris Johnson was treated in intensive care – said working during the coronavirus crisis was “the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life” and that he was “fuming” at the absence of a pay increase.
“There’s a lot of PTSD around among colleagues and many are worried about the possibility of a second wave,” he said. “We can’t do the job any more. We had to shut down the NHS to fight Covid and now we’re expected to just turn it back on.
“We’re absolutely on our knees. And on top of it they give 900,000 public sector workers a pay rise, and I haven’t got a problem with that, but they carve us out. I’m absolutely fuming.”
In London, protesters made their way along Whitehall towards Downing Street with a blue banner reading “End NHS pay inequality, together we win.” Outside No 10, there were chants of “Boris Johnson hear us shout, pay us properly or get out.”
In Glasgow city centre, where NHS staff fell silent to remember colleagues lost during the coronavirus pandemic, demonstrators held signs saying “Covid hero pay rise zero”, and “Who saved you Boris?”
Melanie Gale, a senior charge nurse who ran a Covid-positive ward with an “under-staffed hard-working team” and helped to organise the event, said: “We’re here today to say we have had enough, we deserve our equal pay. It’s 10 years of not being given a proper pay increase for the jobs we do.”
Scottish Labour health spokeswoman Monica Lennon told the crowd that she had urged the Scottish government to begin pay talks with workers and that “warm words” do not pay people’s bills.
“People call you heroes but you don’t have superpowers. You should be getting paid a fair pay for the job that you do, your expertise and your skills - not just a pat on the back or a clap on the doorstep every week,” she said.
“We need to make sure that your work continues to be recognised and properly remunerated so you have our full support. Warm words don’t pay the bills. we need to get these pay talks under way.”
Other protests took place in Liverpool, Birmingham, Edinburgh, Cardiff and elsewhere across the UK.
Dr Tony O’Sullivan, co-chair of Keep Our NHS Public, said the government was “abusing the goodwill and commitment” of healthcare workers.
“The government has rejected an opportunity for a meaningful thank you that could have addressed the 20% cuts in pay inflicted since 2010. Small wonder then that there are now 44,000 nurse vacancies,” he said, adding it was hypocritical to clap NHS workers while effectively neglecting them.
Helen O’Connor, an organiser from the GMB union, said NHS workers were not just fighting for themselves but for the survival of the health service.
“If we really want an NHS capable of dealing with a crisis and all the other demands, then the government must start treating health care workers with dignity and respect and this starts with fair pay,” she said. “If our NHS is to survive for future generations, the cuts and privatisation agenda of this government must be completely reversed.”
A recent survey by the Royal College of Nursing of 42,000 nursing staff showed that 36% were considering leaving the profession, with most citing pay as a factor.
Hundreds of deaths of NHS, social care and private healthcare staff from coronavirus have been recorded, with black, Asian and minority ethnic nurses, doctors and porters hardest hit. A lack of testing and shortages of personal protective equipment, particularly in the early stages of the pandemic, left many exposed.