Striking NHS workers say toll on mental health is ‘huge’ and morale ‘on floor’

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Nottinghamshire NHS staff taking part in the biggest strike in the history of the service say they are suffering a “huge” impact on their mental health because of their jobs.

Hundreds of nurses, healthcare assistants and clinicians took to picket lines across Nottinghamshire alongside paramedics, technicians, call handlers and other staff working for East Midlands Ambulance Service.

Striking staff outside Nottingham City Hospital and Beechdale Ambulance Station were greeted by the supportive honk of countless horns from motorists as they passed by.

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The action is the latest in the dispute between unions and the Government over pay and working conditions.

NHS staff on a picket line today.NHS staff on a picket line today.
NHS staff on a picket line today.

Today, both sides accused each other of not wanting to negotiate – with the Government saying increasing this year’s pay award, worth 4.75 per cent extra on average, is unaffordable.

Health Secretary Steve Barcley instead said unions should start discussing next year’s pay deal.

EMAS staff spent more than 27,500 hours waiting outside hospitals to hand over patients in a single month in December 2022.

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It was the highest number on record and such pressures mean EMAS “is not currently delivering consistently safe services”, according to bosses.

Standing at the picket line at Beechdale, Helen Auld, EMAS mental health lead, said the toll on NHS workers’ mental health is “huge”.

“The fact is colleagues in Wales have called off strikes, colleagues in Scotland have called off strikes, because there has been negotiation,” she said.

“Mr Barclay is not having those conversations, not negotiating and that is why we are standing here today.

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“The toll on staff is huge, because we can’t recruit and retain, with pay being within that. Staff are having to do more and more.

“It is not just that, it is the impact we are seeing on patient care, nobody joined the NHS as a clinician to give anything but optimal care, but for a few years now we’ve not been seeing that because of recruitment and retention.”

It is the first time EMAS staff and nursing staff have joined picket lines to strike together during the dispute.

Unite, GMB and the Royal College of Nursing are supporting the action.

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It is understood there are roughly 47,000 nursing vacancies across England, and nursing staff outside City Hospital said the holes will only be filled once pay increases.

Jocelyn Henderson, deputy sister on the hospital’s burns unit, said: “It’s just getting worse.

“I’ve only been a nurse for four years and even in that relatively short amount of time it is falling apart, morale is on the floor, patients are getting sicker with more complex needs.

“We just want them to listen to us, because the more they ignore us the more they are abandoning patients.

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“People say we are walking out of our shifts, but that is really, really difficult. We are nurses for a reason, we want to look after people, but they are not listening.”

Sarah McMahon, RCN regional organiser, said: “I am extremely proud of all of our RCN members for taking a stand. They have said ‘enough is enough’ after 10-plus years of below inflation pay, they have decided to vote for strike action.

“Four years ago the story probably would have been different, I don’t think we would have got the mandate for strike action.

“Are the Government listening? Not at all. The intransigence from the Government is breathtakingly arrogant.

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“I think there have been murmurs this weekend from NHS England, they are saying enough is enough, for the health of patients you need to get round the table.

“I know plenty of our members struggle with three-times 12-hour shifts, I don’t know who could operate at their level, or anyone at that level, after three-times 12-hour shifts.

“Day in, day out, because of the Government’s refusal to fund the NHS appropriately and pay the staff in it appropriately, patients have been at risk increasingly over many, many years now.

“They cannot pin patient safety on us today when they have been negligent for years.”

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Mansfield and Ashfield NHS workers taking part in strikes across England

Mr Barclay, said: “NHS contingency plans are in place but these co-ordinated strikes will undoubtedly have an impact on patients and cause delays to NHS services.

“We accepted the recommendations of the independent pay review body to give over 1 million NHS workers, including nurses and ambulance workers, a pay rise of at least £1,400 this financial year, on top of an increase the previous year when wider public sector pay was frozen.

“I have been having constructive talks with unions about what is affordable for 2023/24.”