The UK government is accused of abandoning support for NHS nurses and carers

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While the UK government has announced ways in which it will be boosting the economy in the post-COVID era, there are concerns within the medical community that all the hard work of nurses in the National Health Service has gone unappreciated.

Thousands of NHS workers protested across the United Kingdom on Saturday 8th August, calling for fair pay for NHS staff and recognition of their work throughout the crisis. Over 30 marches were planned over the weekend, as anger grows about the absence of action to match gestures like the weekly applause for healthcare professionals.

GMB National Officer Rachel Harrison told Eat News, “The Government’s handling of the Covid-19 Pandemic has fallen extremely short of expectations of NHS staff and way below what they should have been able to expect. As the country went into lockdown and the public went into panic mode, our NHS key workers continued going to work every day, putting their own fears aside and lives on the line. They have been failed on everything from pay, PPE and testing.”

NHS nurse staff in personal protection equipment (PPE) key worker. Photo: Luke Jones/Unsplash

The NHS is represented by GMB Union Public Services, who have been vocal about the need for the government to right its wrongs by providing effective PPE, more testing for NHS staff, and providing a substantial pay increase for NHS workers.

Harrison continued, “All of this has been on the back of a decade of austerity and real terms pay cuts, as well as a 100,000+ staffing vacancy crisis. Our members have had enough. It all needs addressing if we are going to be prepared for winter, as well as if we are to retain staff and attract new people into the NHS.”

Throughout the lockdown that was imposed on the United Kingdom from March, members of the public paused their evenings to take to their doorsteps and clap for the NHS, to show their appreciation for the service. During this time, around 30,000 student nurses were being employed before the end of their training to help fight the pandemic.

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Health Secretary Matt Hancock said, “All student nurses and midwives are required to complete placements during their training. As part of the response to COVID-19 these hours are being paid and will be until the end of summer. NHS England has been provided with the funding for student salaries and the chief nurse has taken that forward.”

Student nurses in England who joined the frontline response to COVID-19 had their contracts abruptly ended earlier this month. The government had previously promised to keep the paid placements going until September, and questions have now been raised about where the government’s priorities lie.

Chief nurse at Health Education England, Professor Mark Radford, has spoken out following the reports, stating that, “It really feels that this decision is being made about us, without us.”

Contracts varied across different NHS trusts, but most contracts were for a period of six months from April. The contracts for all second-year students and most third year students were prematurely concluded by the 31st July, leaving them with no income.

Earlier this year, UK Care Minister Helen Whatley signed a letter stating student nurses were “supernumerary” and “are not deemed to be providing a service”, despite being hired specifically to tackle the coronavirus pandemic years before their training ended.  This comment came just months before Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that, “too many care homes didn’t really follow the procedures.” Labour Party leader, Keir Starmer believe this comment was an effort to shift blame onto carers for the spread of coronavirus.

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Starmer said, “Residents went without tests. Staff were left without PPE, and all after a decade of cuts to social care. Shameful of Boris Johnson for trying to blame others for his government’s failures.”

Many believe comments like this and subsequent actions of the government reflect an underlying lack of gratitude for nurses, before and during their service to stem the devastation of the virus.

In response to concerns, an increase in pay for members of the public who had made a “vital contribution” during the pandemic has since been announced. Almost 900,000 workers will benefit from an increase in pay of between 2-3.1%. Doctors will see an increase in pay of 3.1%, according to the Treasury, meanwhile senior civil servants and members of the judiciary will see an increase of 2%.

Essential frontline workers including social care workers and nurses were not included in the pay rises. The government has stated that nurses are not included in the pay rises as they agreed a separate Agenda for Change three-year deal, back in 2018, which would result in the average nurse receiving an average 4.4% rise this year. The decision has caused widespread controversy, with many arguing that due to previous pay cuts and inflation, the deal leaves nurses with a very minimal pay rise.

Just last week, it was announced that nursing careers in England will be made more accessible through a new government package worth up to £172million, which will enable healthcare employers to take on 2,000 nursing degree apprentices every year, for at least the next 4 years.

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Gillian Keegan, Apprenticeships and Skills Minister said, “Nursing apprenticeships are a brilliant way to start a truly rewarding career with our fantastic NHS. Nurses are at the heart of our NHS and their care, compassion and support of patients save and transform lives across the country every day.”

Despite the measures that have been enforced to seemingly support those who have been working as carers or NHS nurses during the pandemic, contrasting commentaries amongst government officials appear to tell a different story.

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Emily Lowes is an Eat News correspondent in the UK who has experience writing social, political, and economic features for a range of news outlets. She is an avid communicator, activist, and advocate for the freedom of information.

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Eat News is a Taiwanese digital media, analyzes current events and issues through column articles, videos, visual aid, and exclusive interviews.

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