Warning: Invalid argument supplied for foreach() in /home/nclexion/public_html/wp-content/themes/jnews/class/ContentTag.php on line 47
It’s funny what a difference a week can make in the news – although I use the word funny very loosely indeed.
This time last week, we were in the afterglow of International Nurses’ Day, when nurses had been thanked their hard work and sacrifice in tackling the coronavirus pandemic.
Nursing organisations were calling for investment and recognition for the profession around the world and in this column I wrote about the need to never again undervalue nurses.
The following day, a leak from the Treasury suggested one of the options being looked at to help cover the country’s coronavirus bill was a pay freeze for public sector staff.
That’s right, the very people who have been putting themselves at risk – and in many cases losing their lives or health – working in health and social care, public transport and the police were potentially going to be ‘rewarded’ with a pay freeze.
Fast-forward another few days and health and social care secretary Matt Hancock was claiming in the No. 10 briefing that nurses had received a “very significant” pay rise in recent years.
He was referring to the three-year Agenda for Change deal agreed in 2018, with April this year marking the final year of uplift from the deal.
“Why mention a past, unpopular pay deal when you have a new one to negotiate in the very near future and the chance to win support from the public”
It saw the value of the top points of each pay band increased by 6.5% cumulatively over the three-year period and each year by 3% in 2018-19, 1.7% in 2019-20 and 1.67% in 2020-21.
But, while the deal provided a boost to pay overall, when the gains are measured alongside inflation, nurses are actually worse off in 2020 than they were in 2010, according to financial analysts.
The value of the deal was questioned even at the time it was unveiled and the resulting fallout claimed the scalp of the then chief executive of the Royal College of Nursing.
Unsurprisingly, Mr Hancock’s comments were called “misleading” by union leaders and the angry reaction of the profession on social media was a sharp reminder of how the issue of pay can spur unity.
There was no need for him to go down that road at a time like this. Talk about a political own goal. Why mention a past, unpopular pay deal when you have a new one to negotiate in the very near future and the chance to win support from the public, which is increasingly questioning the government’s performance in coping with the pandemic.
Given the shambles over personal protective equipment and testing up to this point, playing politics over the remuneration of nurses and other NHS staff when we need them the most seems utter folly. After all, let’s not forget the massive shortage of nurses we already had before the pandemic.
I also wanted to highlight that it is National Mental Health Awareness Week. While it sometimes feels to me like the charity sector and the public relations industry have overdone the whole awareness day, week or month thing, better mental health awareness really is important.
I recently watched a Ted Talk by the psychologist Guy Winch on what he called “emotional hygiene”. His point was that society showed too much favouritism towards the body over the mind.
He noted that “we spend more time taking care of our teeth than our minds”, before going on to say that people who were feeling depressed were often told to “just shake it off”, which would never happen if you had a broken leg, for example.
I suspect many people across the country have become more aware of the state of their mental health during the pandemic, as we collectively struggle with the isolation of lockdown, worries over employment, and fears about Covid-19.
As regular readers will know, Nursing Times recently launched its Covid-19: Are You OK? campaign to promote awareness of the negative impact of the pandemic on nursing staff mental health.
This message is increasingly echoed by other organisations and individuals, including charity The Laura Hyde Foundation and former chief nursing officer Professor Jane Cummings, who have spoken out this week on the need to support the mental health of health professionals.
Importance of this was brought into sharp focus by UK researchers, who yesterday warned that post-traumatic stress disorder, chronic fatigue, anxiety and depression may affect people who have recovered from Covid-19, based on the evidence seen with other coronaviruses.
Improving nurse pay is the right thing to do – imperative if we are to protect the workforce for the future and will sit well with the public, while providing the profession with proper mental health support is a necessity.