Cambridge marches on Saturday for a pay rise for our NHS heroes
A march taking place in Cambridge on Saturday (August 8) will highlight the plight of NHS staff, including doctors, nurses, paramedics, domestics and health care assistants after years of cuts, wage freezes and increased responsibilities.
The march, which will be socially distanced and with face coverings, is one of more than 30 similar events taking place all over the country – including Peterborough and London.
It starts at Parker’s Piece at 11am and ends at King’s Parade where speeches will start from 12pm onwards, says co-organiser Jade West.
Jade is an NHS nurse, as are the two other organisers, Rhea Solstice and Sharon Ankin.
“We spotted each other on social media,” Jade, who lives in Over, told the Cambridge Independent, “and we said let’s work together to do this”.
Jade said that “leading a march and talking in public will be terrifying but the alternative is worse”.
She added: “For too long the government has taken us for granted, they have a moral hold because we can’t just strike and leave our patients. They are taking advantage of the goodwill of NHS staff who have always been overworked and underpaid because we care and love what we do. That’s why we’re doing a march – it’s a peaceful demonstration.”
There were 43,000 vacancies for NHS nurses in 2019, according to the Nursing Times. In 2017, 33,000 nurses left the NHS. Pay was frozen in 2011, then capped at one per cent for seven years. The Institute for Public Policy Research study says that the average band 5 NHS nurse has had “a real-terms pay cut of almost £2,500 compared with the rate of inflation since 2011” – an estimated nine per cent cut. A pay deal was cobbled together in 2018, but Jade says the impact was negligible.
“The way it was worded made it seem we were benefitting but there was no real pay rise, so we are still paid 20 per cent below what we should be,” she said.
Parliament voted twice – in 2017 and in April 2020 – not to award NHS frontline workers a pay increase.
Further pressure has been put on staff by immigration policies that make finding and keeping staff harder, and more than 500 NHS staff died during the early stages of the coronavirus pandemic, not least because of a lack of PPE. To cap it all, last month health and social care staff were once again overlooked by the Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, when he awarded a 3.1 per cent pay rise for 900,000 public sector workers – but not nurses or junior doctors.
“Nationally we have seen nurses with sores and bruises on their faces from the PPE they have to wear, and workers physically and emotionally exhausted after such difficult tasks as denying families visits to their dying relatives,” says Jade. “Some are using foodbanks and others can’t afford to pay their mortgages so they are taking on so many extra shifts it’s exhausting them. Of course they are working the extra hours to help in a crisis, but it’s also just to pay their mortgages and if a second wave does come, it’s already an emergency situation as they’re really run down, some are shielding from their own families, and to not be valued with this pay award... it’s absolutely immoral. They’ve done this while they clap outside Downing Street for NHS workers.”
Jade is also concerned about the number of vacancies in the NHS.
“People need to be encouraged to take up the training – there’s 40,000 vacancies and people are retiring and people are not coming to work for us,” she said. “It’s an emergency situation which is brewing, and people are leaving their jobs. I’ve known five colleagues leave to go and work outside nursing because they can’t support their families. We just want the government to listen.
“This pandemic has shown us now, more than ever, how important our NHS is. It is a loved and needed service. We, as NHS workers, want to help it thrive with a valued workforce and that’s why we are fighting now and will continue to fight.”
The global Covid-19 virus has put huge pressure on the health service, and there are fears of a second wave, although it is unclear if the first wave has ever finished. The UK has the highest number of Covid-19-related deaths in Europe – 46,210. On Monday (August 3) Department of Health recorded 938 new cases of coronavirus in a 24-hour period – the most number of new cases to be confirmed in 24 hours since June 26.
“Before Covid-19 our health service was already in trouble and now it is at risk of being totally overwhelmed with a lack of funding,” says Jade. “We want to be a workforce that is ready for Covid and a second wave.
“We are asking the government to review their decision and award all healthcare workers a 15 per cent pay rise. This includes all roles, from porters to health care assistants to junior doctors.”
NHS staff are working with their representatives – Nurses Unite, the Royal College of Nursing and Unison – for the marches, which are titled ‘NHS workers say no to public sector pay inequality’.
“At Great St Mary’s there will be two minutes silence to mark all those colleagues who died working through the pandemic, and we’re asking people to leave a flower at the end point,” says Jade. “There will be chanting, speakers – we’ve got some good speakers on the day – and general information sharing.”
A campaign to invite politicians has resulted in 45 MPs agreeing to attend an online event about the protest.