CW: This article discusses the topic of cancer which may be distressing to some readers.
Having been in hospital for a minimum of six months this year, I have come to realise that the rumours regarding poor wages for NHS nurses couldn’t be truer.
One Monday morning, I had a nurse placing some ECG stickers on me whilst conversing with another nurse who was simultaneously connecting my PICC line to a bag of chemo drugs. Having asked how the ECG nurses’ weekend had been, she explained that she was slightly tired as she had just picked up two additional shifts at A&E on Friday and Saturday night (which one can only imagine is a nightmare beyond proportions). But what shocked me was the fact that she looked at the other nurse and said, “but it’s worth it when you’re getting the extra rate of £130/shift” (a shift being 12 hours). In which the other nurse responded, “god that’s good, isn’t it?”. For reference, this nurse was glorifying the fact that she had just earned an increased rate of £10.83/hour, during her 12-hour shifts, in one of the UK's busiest medical departments, on their most active days of the week.
So what are NHS nurses paid?
Nurses who work for the NHS are paid depending on which band they fall into. According to NHSemployers.org, the hourly pay scales are as follows:
· Band 2: £9.49 - £10.19 (Healthcare Assistant or likewise)
· Band 3: £10.40 - £11.14 (Emergency Care Assistant)
· Band 4: £11.53 - £12.73 (Theatre Support Worker)
· Band 5: £13.12 - £14.21 (Newly Qualified Nurse, e.g. fresh out of University)
· Band 6: £16.52 - £17.48 (Nursing Specialist – gained through extensive experience).
In comparison, here are some of the starting hourly rates for other jobs across the UK:
· £9.5 Costa Coffee Store Member
· £10.10 Tesco Floor Staff
· £11 Lidl Customer Assistant
· £11.24 Bill’s Waitress/Waiter
Why are nurses paid so poorly?
According to the Office for National Statistics, once again, jobs that provide a care service to society are the ones on the lower end of the pay scale. Surprisingly, these jobs are the ones that play a crucial role in society, so why is it that we reward them with so little?
“Our health is fundamental to our prosperity and wellbeing. It seems obvious, but if people aren’t healthy, society can’t function”.
Despite our physical and mental state being so essential to our welfare, it seems as though people have forgotten the value of healthcare professionals. We live in a consumer-centric society wherein we subconsciously take advantage of our free healthcare. It may even be that in some cases, people are knowingly taking it for granted—for example, the government. Whilst nurses are highly valued as care providers, life-savers, and altruistic individuals, they do not generate wealth for the government and thus are rejected by money-hungry institutions.
Where would we be without a publicly funded NHS?
The NHS runs on selflessness and humanitarianism. If the NHS were to privatise, a wealth of problems would occur. The first is less transparency. If patients don’t have access to the correct information on the cost of treatments and medications, they will be hesitant to go ahead with procedures which could cost them their lives. Likewise, private firms will not continue to provide care if the service is unprofitable. This lack of continuity would result in patients' healthcare providers changing throughout their illness which, in turn, triggers even more problems.
This is a social injustice that is happening now. It’s been worsening for years, and the government seem to be doing nothing about it. Their only suggestion, privatising the NHS, would only cause further inequity to those already suffering financial hardship.
Furthermore, the growing privatisation of the NHS will see an influx of under-trained staff who are willing to work at a cheaper rate. Not only does this provide insufficient and overpriced healthcare, but it completely degrades those nurses who have worked so tirelessly to get where they are today. For them, it would mean compromising their morals and reverting to a working environment with poorer terms and conditions. It could also mean re-applying to their jobs due to an increasingly competitive nature, or worse, facing further wage cuts to their already unjust salary.
How can nurses be paid more?
Countless campaigns support the ongoing fight for fair nursing salaries. As the NHS is not a charity, they can’t accept donations in place of equitable wages. Fair Pay for Nursing, a campaign set up by the Royal College of Nursing (RCN), are leaders in the movement and states that “Nursing is the largest safety-critical profession in health care, playing a vital role in patient care”. They add, “the government must act urgently to protect patient care by protecting the profession”.
However, it is not just top-down actions that matter; the RCN also assert that “we need members and supporters to come together to achieve a safely staffed workforce”. There are many ways for the public to get involved. You can support the campaign locally, download accurate and informative materials to share with others, become a campaign supporter, and many more. Click here to find out more!