I’d say most nurses are apathetic about campaigning for better nursing pay.
“Showing or feeling no interest, enthusiasm, or concern”. The definition of apathetic. It’s amazing when you think about it, considering the negative impact on every nurse’s paycheck since 2010 thanks to austerity. Some people tell me that it’s the unions’ job to fight that fight. No one speaks about it directly; we only complain about how burnt out we are and how much we are working.
The issue of pay is becoming ever more pressing with the cost of living crisis. My landlord wants to put up the rent by £185, and my predicted energy bills have gone up by £800. We are due to have £400 less due to national insurance increases compared with last year, and I fear there are some very dark times ahead. With inflation forecast to reach 11% this year, something has to be done to address our pay.
As bleak as that picture is, I come to you with a good news story, one to demonstrate that stepping up and making a fuss might actually get you something in return that might encourage you to try something similar in your own clinical setting.
I work in an Emergency Department (ED). Our turnover of staff is very high, as is our agency staff use. I joined the team a little over a year ago with three and a half years of experience in a variety of other settings and felt I’d landed on my feet. Keen to be triage and resus qualified, I offered myself up to do the training much earlier than the one-year ED experience rule in place. Management almost snapped my hand off.
I very much enjoy triage and resus but it is empathetically and physically draining. In resus, you’re looking after the sickest patients in the department, and there is an expectation that we deal quickly and efficiently with demands. In triage, you’re expected to actively listen to the presenting complaint, identify red flags and empathise with the patient as their complaint is the most important to them.
Our department struggles with the low number of resus and triage trained nurses, meaning the senior band 5s (resus and triage trained) were heavily dependent on, resulting in physical exhaustion and burnout. We took our concerns to the matron and department lead, and a meeting was set up almost immediately. This is good management and leadership – hearing your employees’ concerns and taking action to hear and address them.
In this meeting, we discussed many issues, including how to retain staff to keep the department skill mix acceptable. When that question was put to the floor, I said, “How about a £1000 bonus for staff who are triage and resus trained after 1 year?”
Matron and the lead initially laughed. I explained that they spend hundreds, if not thousands of pounds on agency staff every single week. I explained that hospital trusts already offer relocation bonuses on recruitment. I explained that the amount of money spent recruiting and training up nurses to work in resus and triage, only for them to leave shortly after, must cost the trusts thousands of pounds. I asked them to reflect on whether retention interventions currently in place have worked and that the trust needs to think radically with a long-term vision rather than short-term fixes.
Chins were stroked, and eyebrows were raised. They said that there was some merit to my argument and they would discuss it with the “higher ups”.
A couple of weeks later, my department lead stopped me in the corridor. She had done a bit of research after our meeting; in the past year, only one nurse had stayed on after a year following resus/triage training. As a result, she had put a business case forward for a retention bonus – £1000 after 1 year being trained in resus and triage, on condition that you stay with the trust another year – the retention bonus works in the employer’s favour too.
I must pay dues to my senior leadership here. They are the best I’ve ever had. Nevertheless, I hope this (true) story will be a testament to what you can do locally in your workplace when the team unite behind a common cause and make demands.
I wrote this article in June before the barrister and RMT Union strikes that have been rumbling on this month. I expect that as inflation soars and it affects more and more NHS workers, the nursing and medical unions will not be that far behind in balloting for industrial action. Now is the best chance we have of standing up against this year’s effective pay cut. It is down to us as members to ensure that our union membership information is up to date, engage with your union and vote in the upcoming ballot.