Nursing strike: Patient safety ‘dangerous’ due to lack of staff, nurse warns

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“It’s not that patient safety is at risk - it is already being compromised. It’s dangerous.”

A children’s nurse who voted to go out on strike has warned that the safety of her patients - some as young as just days old - is “being compromised” due to a lack of staff.

Nursing care is at “dangerous” levels on an acute children’s ward in a London hospital, nurse Vicky, whose last name we are not using, told LondonWorld.

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Her warning came as medical union the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) balloted 300,000 of its members on strike action over the government’s 5% pay rise for NHS staff.

It would be the first strike in the union’s 106-year history - and would come amid months of industrial action from postal, transport and NHS workers amid the rising cost of living crisis.

And the RCN says it will ensure patients are kept safe during any strike with some staff remaining in post via negiotations with employers known as derogations, such as providing a Sunday or Christmas Day service level.

Vicky told us issues on the ward she runs at her hospital, which we are not naming, include:

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  • A staffing crisis, forcing to her close beds and cancel operations due to lack of staff
  • Patient safety “at risk” due to nurses overworked and exhausted
  • Recruiting new nurses is “a near impossible task” as people don’t want to do the job
  • Staff “in tears” nearly every day
  • Forced to use food banks and “terrified” about mortgages
  • Shifts being run with just half of the nurses needed for a fully staffed ward.
An NHS nurse in scrubs with a placard. Photo: GettyAn NHS nurse in scrubs with a placard. Photo: Getty
An NHS nurse in scrubs with a placard. Photo: Getty

Speaking to LondonWorld, Vicky said: “I’ve been a nurse for 11 years.

“Ever since I was five or six I used to write in my schoolwork that I wanted to be a nurse. I think it’s just in me, and what I was meant to do.”

Now living in east London, and working as a paediatric nurse, she cares for babies, children and teenagers with serious medical and surgical neurological conditions.

Patients come in having seizures, or after surgical treatment for epilepsy,” she said.

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“They could have encephalitis, brain infections, meningitis, or tumours. We treat newborn babies right up until the age of 18 years old. It’s pretty intense.

“You have to be a certain kind of person to be able to do it and to want to do it.”

But Vicky says herself and her colleagues are “at the brink” with the state of the crisis within the NHS putting “patient safety at risk”.

She said: “We are really at the brink here. The government just isn’t listening to us and we have to do something.

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“We came into this profession to stand up for patients. On Monday this week, we had half the number of staff we should have to safely run this ward.

“Patients need to come to us for this specialist service and we just don’t have the staff to safely look after them. Trying to recruit is nearly impossible. People don’t want to do this job.

“I have a lot of staff who are on long term sickness due to stress and anxiety because they can’t cope with the pressure they’re under.

“I have nurses in tears nearly on a daily basis as they’re so overwhelmed. They don’t get breaks, can’t go home on time and they’re owed extra hours which they don’t get paid for.

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“We’re here saving children’s lives. That’s the bottom line. We can’t safely do it. It’s not that patient safety is at risk - it is already being compromised. It’s dangerous.”

Stock image of nurses at work in hospital. Photo: RCNStock image of nurses at work in hospital. Photo: RCN
Stock image of nurses at work in hospital. Photo: RCN

Vicky begged health secretary Steve Barclay - the third government minister in the post this year - to come and spend a day on her ward.

She said: “I would say to him, come here and work with me for a day and tell me he could do this under these conditions, forevermore with no help and support from people like him.

“Come and do it. Come and see what it’s like. Come and try to save a child’s life when they decide to stop breathing and see if you feel like you’ve done a good enough job.

“Because the way it is right now, it’s impossible.”

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The cost of living crisis is also worsening the situation, Vicky added, with staff struggling with rent payments and those who have managed to buy now “terrified” about rising mortgages.

She said: “People are demoralised and they don’t feel valued - and pay is a big part of that.

“The government has ignored us, we’ve essentially had pay cuts for the last ten years.”

Nurses are voting whether to take strike action photo. Photo: RCNNurses are voting whether to take strike action photo. Photo: RCN
Nurses are voting whether to take strike action photo. Photo: RCN

She continued: “One colleague told me she was made homeless as her rent increased from £1,400 to £3,000. She couldn’t afford it and had to leave very quickly - it’s really difficult.

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“People can’t afford things and are working themselves into the ground doing bank shifts to pick up extra money and are completely exhausted. It’s so difficult to watch.

“I have people talking about having to go to food banks as they don’t have enough money.

“Travel costs have gone up, fuel prices have gone up - people can’t afford to do shifts as the cost of the train travel takes up half the pay they’re going to get.”

Asked whether she will be voting to go on strike, Vicky said: “I have already voted yes and I would do it a thousand times over if I could.

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“I really want to see a change for my colleagues, my patients and myself. It’s not a decision any of us have come to easily. You feel so torn about it but we have to do something.

“In the last year, it has been the first time I have thought about what other jobs I could do. That is really painful to say.”

A Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) spokesperson said: “We value the hard work of NHS nurses and are working hard to support them – including by giving over one million NHS workers, including nurses, a pay rise of at least £1,400 this year, as recommended by the independent NHS pay review body.

“NHS staff also received a 3% pay rise last year, increasing nurses’ pay by £1,000 on average despite a public sector pay freeze.

“Industrial action is a matter for unions, and we urge them to carefully consider the potential impacts on patients.”

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