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A new group of campaigning nurses has once again taken its fight for increased pay to No. 10 Downing Street as part of a wider protest that also now includes calls for better personal protective equipment (PPE) against Covid-19 .
In a fresh demonstration held outside the gates to the prime minister’s office, nurses protested with large banners, demanding higher pay and upgraded PPE.
“We’re trying to protect patient safety and that’s why we want proper PPE in place”
Meanwhile, they also called for national body Public Health England to release “full results” of a review into the disparities in the risks and outcomes of Covid-19, after it was reported that a key section had been removed.
The group of 10 nurses, dressed in scrubs and face masks, were part of the campaigning group Nurses United, whose stated mission is to secure a 10% pay rise for nurses and improved protection for staff during the coronavirus crisis – particularly those from black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) communities.
As previously reported by Nursing Times, members of Nurses United had also held a protest outside Downing Street on 12 May, to coincide with International Nurses’ Day, to demand pay increases.
Commenting on the latest protest, lead organiser of Nurses United Anthony Johnson, told Nursing Times that the nurses’ main goal was to protect the public.
“We’re trying to protect patient safety and that’s the reason why we want proper PPE in place, and we want proper pay rises in place because it is about protecting the public,” he said.
Nurses United wants the government to provide FFP3 respirator/filtration masks for all nurses instead of the surgical masks currently recommended for those working outside of high-risk areas.
Mr Johnson also raised concerns over ongoing shortages and supply of PPE and stressed that nurses did not want to experience these same issues during a “highly -likely” second wave of coronavirus.
“I’m really worried if it comes around…and we don’t have a vaccine, then the nurses are going to be put at risk,” added Mr Johnson, who is a health visitor.
He stressed that the lockdown measures in place across the country should not have been in anyway relaxed “until we were able to ensure that healthcare professionals, whether they are working in social care or healthcare, or any kind of frontline worker, were to be able to have proper PPE”.
A key goal for the group was to ensure frontline nurses were not ignored and were taken seriously, he noted.
Mr Johnson said the demonstration was about highlighting that “if we had done certain things differently, and if we do certain things differently in the future, nurses of colour especially, all nurses wouldn’t be put at risk like they are”.
“If we do certain things differently in the future nurses wouldn’t be put at risk like there are”
A review from Public Health England (PHE) this week found more than 10,000 nurses, midwives and nursing associated had contracted Covid-19 since the start of the pandemic, with rates of infection highest in Asian staff.
In addition, an analysis of 119 deaths of NHS staff showed a “disproportionately high number” of BAME people among those who died.
The review was originally was due at the end of May although was not published until 2 June. PHE came under fire on Tuesday when the Health Service Journal (HSJ) reported that a key section from the review had been removed.
It said a draft that was circulated within government last week contained a section which had responses from 1,000-plus organisations and individuals who had given evidence for the report.
Responses suggested “suggested that discrimination and poorer life chances were playing a part in the increased risk of covid-19 to those with BAME backgrounds”, according to HSJ. PHE stated nothing had been cut from the report.
After protesting outside Downing Street, the group of nurses also went to PHE’s headquarters in Waterloo.
Nurses United accused PHE of postponing the results of the review and said it “only released a redacted version on the 2nd June”.
The nurse activists are demanding the “full results of the review to be released so action can be taken to end the discrimination against BAME staff”.
Commenting on the issue, Mr Johnson said: “There was an initial one [report] that apparently had a section on it, talking about institutional racism and it was supposedly shelved…and now the government has said that’s not true.”
He claimed the report was “redacted” and made it seem that PHE were “continuing to not put black nurses at the centre of the policy making decision”.
“Everyone knows that the NHS has issues with institutional racism”
“Everyone knows that the NHS has issues with institutional racism,” added Mr Johnson.
Rachel Ambrose, a mental health BAME nurse in Oxford and part of Nurses United also commented on the issue: “Nurses and midwives are the largest group of professionals within our NHS; with 1 in 5 from BAME backgrounds.
“The PHE review provided an opportunity to address the disproportionate impact of Covid-19 to BAME nurses,” she said.
“However. [Tuesday’s] heavily edited version doesn’t provide any answers for how we begin to address the fact that BAME groups are twice as likely to die from this virus.”
Commenting on the protest, a Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “We are incredibly proud of our nurses working day and night throughout this pandemic.”
They said the independent NHS Pay Review Body would take evidence and make recommendations on the next annual pay increase for nurses from April 2021.
The spokesperson also noted that UK PPE guidance had been “developed with NHS leaders in consultation with royal and medical colleges and recommends the safest level of PPE, following WHO advice”.
Nursing Times has contacted PHE for a comment.