Nurses speak of being 'overstressed and underpaid' as they join Oxford picket line

Nurses on the picket line outside John Radcliffe Hospital <i>(Image: Oxford Mail)</i>
Nurses on the picket line outside John Radcliffe Hospital (Image: Oxford Mail)

Nurses spoke of feeling ‘overworked, overstressed and underpaid’ as they took to a picket line for what is reportedly the largest NHS strike in history.

By 8.30am this morning, more than a dozen members of the Royal College of Nursing were outside John Radcliffe Hospital on Headley Way – calling for a rise in pay.

Donna-Sue Wright, a registered nurse for 15 years and now working with the union, said: “We’re here today because we want safe staffing for our patients.

“Realistically, the only way we are going to achieve that is by getting a significant pay rise.

“Over the last 10 years we’ve had a real decrease in our pay in real terms. It’s getting to a point where it’s unsustainable for most nurses to continue in the profession they love.”

She added: “Working in a hospital is really hard in the way we’re expected to work all hours of the day and night, anti-social shifts, the pay is so poor it’s almost better for people to be working in a supermarket – actually, anywhere else.”

The RCN has called on the government to introduce a 19 per cent pay rise. Unions representing other healthcare workers taking to the picket lines this week, including physiotherapists and paramedics, have not specified a figure but have asked for inflation-beating salary rises.

Craig Walsh, 38, an advanced nurse practitioner in paediatric orthopaedics on the John Radcliffe and Nuffield hospital sites, told the Oxford Mail: “It’s really important that we get our voice heard. We don’t have any other way of communicating with the government and, unfortunately, even this doesn’t seem to be working at the moment.

“Since the last strike day on December 20, I’ve had four members of staff leave and we are, to use a medical term, haemorrhaging staff at the moment. It is within the government’s power to do something about that.”

He added: “There are not enough people to do the work; they are overworked, overstressed, underpaid.

“It is, morally, their responsibility to do something about that. This is about nurses’ pay; that’s why we’re striking. But it is more about the continued existence of the NHS.”

Oxford Mail: Craig Walsh outside John Radcliffe Hospital
Oxford Mail: Craig Walsh outside John Radcliffe Hospital

Craig Walsh outside John Radcliffe Hospital (Image: Oxford Mail)

Also on the picket line, Kate Lacey, 41, qualified as a nurse two decades ago in her native Australia. “I just love looking after people,” she said of the work.

But she was surprised when she moved to the UK by the difference in how the profession was treated and seen.

“I just felt like they’re all overworked and under-appreciated and seen as less of a profession than they are at home,” she said.

“At home, nurses are really put on a pedestal. You’ll find nurses at home won’t come here to nurse because of the salary; they’d rather work harder at home then travel.”

Speaking to the BBC’s Today programme, health minister Maria Caulfield claimed it would cost ‘billions’ to reopen the pay settlement for nurses in England, as the government would then have to re-open talks with other public sector workers.

The minister claimed that patients could be put at risk ‘the longer that strikes go on’. Currently, the biggest impact is on pre-booked or ‘elective’ procedures, such as hernia operations. ‘Life-preserving treatment’ must be provided by NHS staff, while intensive care unit and emergency department nurses were expected to work.

President of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine Dr Adrian Boyle told the PA news agency: “While strikes may disrupt emergency care and pose a risk for patient safety, we know that patient safety has long been at risk as a result of years of under-resourcing, under-funding, lack of staff, lack of beds and inadequate and insufficient community and social care.

“This is why it is absolutely critical that every effort is made to retain existing staff in the health service, working on the frontline and delivering for patients.”