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Our nurses deserve fair pay, now.

Last month a nurse who cared for Boris Johnson in intensive care resigned, hitting out at the government's 1% pay rise offer and what she calls its lack of respect for nurses. How much more will it take for our nurses to get the respect and pay that they deserve?

Our nursing workforce has been here for us during one of the most difficult times our country has ever faced. During the COVID-19 pandemic, we have all been first-hand witnesses to the incredible care, dedication and resilience of our NHS nurses. Nurses have offered us all a way out of this terrible crisis: driving forward the vaccine rollout by working on clinical trials and co-ordinating vaccination centres.

Eight in ten nurses say that their mental health has been affected by COVID-19. They’ve struggled with the emotional toll of witnessing COVID-19 deaths. They have foregone time with their own families in order to be by the bedside of our loved ones. Many are exhausted after a year of tireless caring for patients during the pandemic. Sadly, for some of our nursing community, caring for and protecting their patients has come at the greatest possible price – losing their own lives to this dreadful disease.

Our nurses deserve a proper pay boost now. Nurses should have been looking forward to extra money in their pockets since April. Nurses were told to expect a 2.1% pay increase by the government in its long term plan for the NHS published in 2019, this was also budgeted for in the NHS. But nurses are still waiting.

Even worse, the prime minister has shown just how much he respects our nurses in England by insulting them with a 1 percent wage “rise”: in fact a real-terms pay cut, given rising living costs. This pay cut goes directly against the wishes of the general public, who want to recognise our hardworking nurses during and beyond the pandemic. Latest polling shows seven in ten Brits think the 1% nurse pay rise is too low.

Despite committed lobbying by NHS trade unions and nursing organisations, the government refuses to step up and support our hard working and dedicated nurses with better pay. A decent deal of a higher pay award for nurses is not only fair and affordable, it is vital for the longer-term recovery of our NHS. If we want to tackle waiting lists and health inequalities made even worse by COVID-19, we need to fill the tens of thousands of nursing jobs that remain vacant.

Nursing student applications have soared, with young people inspired by courage and dedication of nurses during this crisis. But if a real-terms pay cut is allowed to happen, it is inevitable THAT experienced nurses like Jenny McGee will continue to leave the profession – and both patients and our nation's health will suffer as a result.

That is why it’s right that Labour is calling for at least a 2.1% pay rise for nurses and other NHS staff. Johnson’s refusal to pay nurses a decent wage says everything about the gratitude he feels towards Jenny McGee and our frontline workers who have kept this country going. After all they’ve gone through during this pandemic, the government must prioritise nurses and pay them what they are owed.

By Catherine Deakin

Catherine Deakin is a campaigner who has worked for over 15 years in the not for profit sector. She currently works as a director at a mental health charity and is a Fabian Women’s Network mentee.

Follow her on Twitter @catdeakin

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