OPINION: Nurses pay crisis: ‘Who looks after our nurses?’

Nursing (David Jones/PA Wire)
Nursing (David Jones/PA Wire)

There comes a point amid chaos where we try to make sense of where it all went wrong.

The nursing crisis is not one of those times - we know where it wrong. It had been pointed out time and time again to those who held the power to at least mitigate this disaster-from the crisis in pay to dangerously low staffing levels risking public safety. There was a complete failure to heed those warnings- this wilful dereliction of duty has led us to crisis point.

Foyle SDLP MLA Mark H Durkan.

Foyle SDLP MLA Mark H Durkan.

We have seen the figures; the inexhaustible waiting lists, the 12% staffing shortfall within the profession and the mounting millions spent on agency bills. They are not just concerning… they are frightening.

But what happens when we look at those people behind the figures? Lists of statistics does not even begin to scratch the surface of the negative impact on nurses individually or collectively as a profession. The nurses I’ve met with and listened to, recount stories that would make my hair stand on end if I had any. Their appalling and, at times, heart-breaking every day experiences demonstrates not just that the current situation compromises patient safety but also nurses safety and sanity.

To make the decision to care for others is a vocation. You are nurses because you care - you don’t stop caring when your shift ends or when it’s supposed to end. Anything that compromises your ability to deliver the standard of care you know a patient needs, can only impact negatively on the morale and overall mental health of the workforce. It begs the question, ‘Who looks after our nurses?’

We haven’t even touched on Brexit yet and its inevitable impact on existing workers as well as our ability to recruit new ones. It has been frustratingly clear for in excess of a decade that we need to train more nurses here- that we need to retain those nurses. All this begins with valuing our nurses.

There has been mention of Richard Pengelly at many of the public meetings - in many areas he has demonstrated that he knows the cost of everything and the value of nothing. Nowhere is that more applicable than in nursing. It is inaction such as this which has led to the disintegration of the profession. It is inaction such as this which has left our nurses with no other choice than to threaten strike action. Such is the seriousness of the situation, that the nurses and RCN are threatening industrial action. The SDLP has always stood shoulder to shoulder with our nurses and unions to scrap the cap on nurses’ pay- now we need to close the gap between nurses’ salaries here and elsewhere. Our health workers have our full support.