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Thousands of nurses are preparing to take to the streets tomorrow for a series of socially distanced demonstrations over pay.
More than 35 demonstrations are scheduled to take place in different parts of the UK with huge numbers of nurses and midwives expected to show up.
“I think it is sending a very clear message because I can’t remember anything like this nationally before”
Organisers told Nursing Times they were “extremely confident” the events would have an impact with further local protests planned later in the month.
The demonstrations have been sparked by a grassroots movement launched on social media by frontline nurses and midwives.
The “NHS workers say NO! to public sector pay inequality” Facebook group quickly snowballed and now has nearly 76,500 followers.
The group – which is not affiliated with any unions – is calling for a 15% pay rise for NHS workers by the end of the year.
Members say they are angry at the government’s decision to exclude their professions from the recent pay award for other public sector professionals in England including doctors, teachers and police officers.
The next pay negotiations for NHS staff on Agenda for Change contracts are due to take place in 2021 when the current three-year deal comes to an end in March.
However, the campaigners say pay rises for nurses and other healthcare workers should be brought forward especially given their tireless efforts during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Demonstrations are planned in England, Wales and Scotland with events taking place in many cities including London, Leeds, Birmingham, Manchester, Bristol, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Cardiff and Swansea.
Learning disabilities nurse Holly Turner is one of the leaders of NHS workers say NO! movement and has been at the forefront of organising the London event.
She said the group anticipated between 5,000 and 10,000 people turning out in London alone.
“There are some big ones in Cardiff, Bristol, Newcastle, which could have two to three thousand people at each one,” she told Nursing Times.
She said she was excited by the amount of support from frontline nurses and others.
“Our trade unions and our political parties need to listen to NHS workers”
“I think nurses in particular are fearful of our code of practice. We’re professional and worry about the implications of speaking up, protesting and demonstrating,” she said.
“So it is just inspiring really that so many people want to come out and protest but also I think it is sending a very clear message because I can’t remember anything like this nationally before,” she added.
She said the success of the movement showed the strength of feeling among NHS staff.
“I think that comes from a place of how difficult the last few months in particular have been for healthcare workers,” she said.
“I have been a nurse for a very long time and a decade ago things were hard and we were short-staffed, morale was terrible and it is not moving forwards – it is getting worse,” she added.
Campaigners argue the real-term value of nurses’ pay has reduced by 20% since 2020 due to previous wage freezes and budget cuts.
“Nurses and other frontline workers have literally kept the country going throughout this pandemic and it is not enough to see the government standing on their doorsteps clapping for us – they need to actually care for us and put their money where their mouth is,” said Ms Turner.
“We know about colleagues who live in poverty who are struggling to pay their bills and we all know the stats being 20% lower than it was 10 years ago and yes there is real anger. It was an absolute slap in the face to be left out of the public sector pay rise,” she added.
She said she was “extremely confident” that events like Saturday’s public protests would have an impact.
Meanwhile she explained the campaign group was building a national network of organisers who would keep momentum going in their areas.
“Tomorrow is our day of action but this is a movement we are going to take forward,” she said.
“We are confident. We need a pay rise to protect the public, it’s the right thing to do and it is popular too – the public want it as well,” she added.
She revealed the next phase would see nurses, midwives and colleagues encouraged to organise more localised workplace demonstrations on August 26.
Ms Turner said every precaution was being taken to ensure Saturday’s events were safe with plenty of stewards to ensure the mandatory wearing of face masks and responsible social distancing.
Participants would also be advised to take steps to stay safe in the sun – including staying well hydrated – on what is predicted to be a hot summer’s day.
For those nurses and midwives unable to attend events in person, there will also be an online demonstration facilitated by the Nurses United campaign group, which has been supporting the movement and helping set up protests.
This would feature footage streamed from events around the country, explained Anthony Johnson, lead organiser for Nurses United.
He said the scale of support for the demos showed the level of frustration on the frontline over pay.
“The Agenda for Change deal has delivered year-on-year pay increases for our valued NHS staff”
“The scale of activity and the speed with which people have been willing to get up, mobilise and show they care for their patients and colleague has been amazing,” he told Nursing Times.
“It is good to see that frontline NHS workers are standing up and saying they have had enough and that they are going to do the things they need to do to protect their patients prior to a second wave,” he added.
Mr Johnson, who is a health visitor and has been helping to organise the demonstration in Leeds, said he felt the movement was about nurses “reclaiming their power”.
“Our trade unions and our political parties need to listen to NHS workers when they are having to come out and do these demonstrations just to be heard,” he said.
“What is happening at the moment is they are not investing in services, we have tens of thousands of vacancies across the NHS and if we don’t invest now how are we going to prepare for a second peak of Covid?”
The action has the backing of healthcare union Unite and the Royal College of Nursing has also said it would support members who wished to take part.
“Nursing staff and other allied health professionals have reacted with anger to being overlooked when pay rises were given to many in the public sector last month,” said Unite national officer for health Jackie Williams.
She said unions were also calling for a pay rise to be brought forward and confirmed Unite would be supporting members who wished to take part in the protests on Saturday.
“The public expects – and ministers should deliver – a substantial pay increase for NHS staff that reflects their real worth to the NHS and society more generally. NHS workers shouldn’t have to wait until April 2021,” she said.
The Department of Health and Social Care said it was committed to supporting the NHS and social care workforce.
“We are incredibly grateful for the hard work and dedication of all our health and care staff during the pandemic and we will continue to ensure all staff are rewarded fairly,” said a spokesperson.
They flagged up the fact the department had recently announced a further £3bn for the NHS on top of the £33.9bn extra by 2023-24 already promised.
“The Agenda for Change deal has delivered year-on-year pay increases for our valued NHS staff, including increasing the starting salary for a newly-qualified nurse by over 12%,” they added.