'They stabbed us in the back': Why NHS workers are protesting across the UK this weekend

James Morris
·Senior news reporter, Yahoo News UK
·4-min read
Demonstrators, a number of them nurses and care workers from St Thomas' Hospital, hold placards as they protest for a pay rise in London, Wednesday, July 29, 2020. Heath care unions are launching a campaign for a pay rise for NHS nurses and care workers. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)
An NHS worker demanding a pay rise during a protest in London on Wednesday last week. There will be 37 further protests across England, Scotland and Wales on Saturday. (AP/Alastair Grant)

Thousands of NHS workers will demand a pay rise in nationwide protests against the government on Saturday.

One of them, Laura Duffell, told Yahoo News UK that NHS staff feel they have been “stabbed in the back” after months on the frontline during the coronavirus pandemic.

“I don’t think the government has appreciated the sacrifices people have made,” she said.

As part of a three-year deal from 2018, health workers are due a pay rise in April next year. Following the pandemic, unions had called on the government to show its appreciation for NHS staff by bringing this forward.

Laura Duffell, who is helping to organise the protest in London on Saturday, said NHS workers feel 'stabbed in the back' by the government. (Laura Duffell)
Laura Duffell, who is helping to organise one of the 37 protests on Saturday, said NHS workers feel 'stabbed in the back' by the government. (Laura Duffell)

However, when wage increases for 900,000 public sector workers were announced two weeks ago, chancellor Rishi Sunak didn’t include the majority of NHS workers. Doctors and dentists were the only NHS employees who benefited from the announcement.

It has prompted a wave of 37 socially distanced protests across England, Scotland and Wales which are all set to start at 11am on Saturday.

Duffell is a matron at the trauma centre of a central London hospital. It was three times over its intensive care capacity at the peak of the outbreak.

She is helping to organise the London protest, which will see workers march on Downing Street.

While saying pay rises for the 900,000 public sector workers were “very well deserved”, other NHS workers have been left “very, very upset” by their omission.

“I think colleagues felt quite stabbed in the back, quite rejected,” she said.

“People have been saying it really does show the true appreciation the government has for nurses and other low-paid public health workers such as porters and healthcare assistants… all of these people have been left off this pay rise.”

Boris Johnson and Sunak were enthusiastic proponents of the “clap for carers” gesture on Thursday evenings at the height of the outbreak.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson (right) and Chancellor Rishi Sunak outside 10 Downing Street, London, joining in with a national applause for the NHS to show appreciation for all NHS workers who are helping to fight the Coronavirus. (Photo by Aaron Chown/PA Images via Getty Images)
Rishi Sunak and Boris Johnson outside 10, Downing Street joining in one of the national 'clap for carers' events earlier this year. (Aaron Chown/PA Images via Getty Images)

“Clap for carers really did give you that boost,” Duffell said. “No matter how exhausted I was, it made me feel ‘this is worth it’.

“The government has now made that seem really little and thrown it down the drain. They [ministers] were stood out there clapping, saying ‘we really appreciate you’.

“Then, when things started calming down, they turned around and gave everyone else a pay rise.”

Matt Smith, an advanced nurse practitioner at the paediatric intensive care unit of a central London hospital, will also be at the London protest on Saturday.

Matt Smith in personal protective equipment (PPE) while at work during the pandemic. He said the NHS pay situation 'just can't go on'. (Matt Smith)
Matt Smith in personal protective equipment (PPE) while at work during the pandemic. He said the NHS pay situation 'just can't go on'. (Matt Smith)

Speaking to this website, he laid bare the financial constraints he is enduring.

“Every year there’s a pay rise, but it’s always below inflation,” he said. “So it’s like a pay cut.

“I travel an hour-and-a-half on the train every day to get to the hospital. The cost of the train is going up by four or five per cent every year.”

As a result, Smith said he needs to do an extra two shifts a month to get more money. “It just can’t go on,” he said.

“They want the NHS to cope with the pandemic, and it will be done as best as we can, but there’s a point when enough’s enough.”

Saturday’s protests will see workers demand a 15% pay rise from 1 December.

A recent survey by Unison suggested more than two-thirds (69%) of people think all NHS employees should be awarded a rise this year, in light of the pandemic.

The union’s poll of more than 2,000 British adults also found just one in 10 think health workers should wait until April for a rise.

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