Doctors and nurses cost money. Highly skilled people doing, every day, what very few people could – saving lives. No one, surely, would argue with that? Yet we are doomed, it seems, to be heading to the point where NHS staff are cast as the enemy. How could this be?
In choosing to strike for the first time in their history, the RCN, reluctantly, has gone over a threshold. This was not done lightly. And at no point has any nurse stopped work where doing so would knowingly put lives at risk. Doctors will not do that either – a little something called ethics. But when you see, day in and day out, colleagues brought to tears through over-work; when you see the fabric of the building you are working in crumbling at the same time colleagues do; when you know more and more people are having to wait longer and longer in pain because the NHS simply is not getting what it needs and more people are leaving it as the only way to keep themselves healthy – well, are those same ethics also not at play?
This is not just about pay – yet talking about pay will, sooner or later, have to be done. Slamming the door shut and saying ‘it’s their fault’ may well play to the mantra of some right-wing politics but it makes no sense. All it does is prolong the suffering. Who can say, hand on heart, that lives are not already being lost because there are not enough staff, because people cannot be discharged safely, because budgets are simply inadequate, because the tidal wave of demand pent up over the pandemic is now breaking? You would have to be stupid or ignorant to really believe that – and whatever you may think of our current government, they are neither. But they are wrong.
Taking a stand against health workers will be a costly mistake. Either in political currency lost or in lives put at risk, likely both. Lives are being put at risk unnecessarily already because of years of under-investment, staff shortages and over-worked people working themselves to exhaustion. These are the core problems – and pay sits in their centre.
People need to pay for doctors and nurses. Doctors and nurses need a wage they can live off, but more than that – they need to feel the NHS itself can be saved. Currently all the signs are the intention is the exact opposite. Bevan’s dream still stands as the nation’s glowing achievement, despite the many threats encroaching on it from privatisation, which we have commented on many times. But if the light is not to die, along with many who could have been saved, then NHS staff need to be listened to and pay needs to be talked about. Soon. The silence of denial and blame are benefiting no one – and risking more than a few.