Nurses feel 'humiliated' going to foodbanks after shifts, strike leader says

Nurses are being forced to turn to foodbanks due to their low pay, their union says. Credit: PA

A nurses union leader has warned that the NHS will not be "fit for purpose" if the "crisis in nursing" which has led to historic industrial action is not urgently addressed.

Royal College of Nursing (RCN) General Secretary Pat Cullen said that "we have pushed nurses to the brink", as she described how some low-paid workers felt humiliated for having to pick up food parcels at foodbanks after long and gruelling shifts.

Calling the strike over pay a "defining moment" in the nursing profession, the union boss said that patients and the general public "deserve better".

"They have turned their anger into action on behalf of their patients," she told ITV's Good Morning Britain on Thursday.

'We are not going to have a health service that is fit for purpose,' Ms Cullen said

"If we do not address the crisis in nursing, and if we don't address it through treating them decently with a proper pay wage, that they can look after their families and stop living on a knife-edge at home, and then when they come into work and having to worry about looking after their patients, then we are not going to have a health service that is fit for purpose and our patients are not going to be treated properly," she added.

She said the reasons why many patients are on long waiting lists is because the nursing workforce has been "depleted" year on year, with 47,000 vacant nursing posts in England alone.

During industrial action, the health service will turn its attention to treating emergency patients in a “life-preserving care model”, with sources saying some hospitals on strike days will have staffing levels similar to those over Christmas.

Some of the most serious cancer cases could still be treated, while urgent diagnostic procedures and assessments will be staffed if they are needed to gather data on potentially life-threatening conditions or those that could lead to permanent disability.

Ms Cullen confirmed that maternity services will not be affected by the action.

While urgent and emergency care will also be protected, the strikes will impact on routine services, such as planned operations, including knee and hip replacements, district nursing and mental health care.

Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, which represents most NHS organisations, told BBC Breakfast there are national and regional plans to minimise the impact on patients.

But he admitted that some operations and appointments will have to be cancelled or postponed.

Mr Taylor said: “Clearly industrial action is a challenge for the health service and NHS leaders.

“We’re already coping with the gap that exists between the demand that is currently on the health service from the public. We’ve got to meet that demand, and we all know that we are heading into what already is a very difficult winter.

“Then we add industrial action into that and it’s going to be an extremely difficult job.

“The priority will be to try to minimise patient harm.”

Minimum staffing levels will be adhered to when nurses strike. Credit: PA

Mr Taylor added that RCN has promised to maintain emergency and critical care “but there will be an impact if there is industrial action in terms of cancelled appointments, cancelled procedures, and NHS leaders will do everything we can to minimise that and to ensure that patients are kept informed of what is happening.”

Asked about the current state of nursing in the NHS, Mr Taylor said “we are acutely aware of the fact that health workers take industrial action as a last resort – it’s very rare.”

He said the issue is primarily about pay but “it’s important to understand that, whenever you speak to nurses, they will say pay is part of the challenge but it’s also about workload, about the fact that there are nearly 50,000 nurse vacancies across the NHS.

“Even if there wasn’t any industrial action, we would still have a really big issue about how we recruit, how we retain and how we motivate staff in the NHS.”

The health leader said workers have been “waiting for a very long time” for a properly-costed workforce strategy from the government.

There have also been “briefings in recent days that there will be a pay freeze or pay cap on the public sector next year – that kind of background is not helpful to these talks.”

RCN strike action will take place at these locations

East Midlands

  • East Midlands Ambulance Service NHS Trust

  • NHS Derby and Derbyshire ICB (Joined Up Care Derbyshire)

  • NHS Nottingham and Nottinghamshire ICB

  • Derbyshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust

  • Northamptonshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust

  • Derbyshire Community Health Services NHS Foundation Trust

  • Nottinghamshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust

  • Nottingham University Hospitals NHS Trust

  • Kettering General Hospital NHS Foundation Trust

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  • Cambridgeshire and Peterborough NHS Foundation Trust

  • Norfolk and Norwich University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust

  • Cambridge University Hospital NHS Foundation Trust

  • East Suffolk and North Essex NHS Foundation Trust

  • Norfolk Community Health and Care NHS Trust

  • Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust

  • Cambridgeshire Community Services NHS Trust

  • Hertfordshire Community NHS Trust

  • West Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust

  • NHS Hertfordshire and West Essex ICB

  • NHS Mid and South Essex ICB

  • NHS Norfolk and Waveney ICB

  • NHS Suffolk and North East Essex ICB

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  • Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust

  • Guys and St Thomas NHS Foundation Trust

  • Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children NHS Foundation Trust

  • Hounslow and Richmond Community Healthcare NHS Trust

  • St George's University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust

  • Kings College Hospital NHS Foundation Trust

  • Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust

  • Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust

  • University College London Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust

  • NHS North Central London ICB

  • NHS South West London ICB

  • NHS Resolution

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North West

  • Mersey Care NHS Foundation Trust

  • Tameside and Glossop Integrated Care NHS Foundation Trust

  • Liverpool Heart and Chest Hospital NHS Found Trust

  • Lancashire Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust

  • The Clatterbridge Cancer Centre NHS Found Trust

  • The Christie NHS Foundation Trust

  • Wrightington Wigan and Leigh NHS Foundation Trust

  • Countess of Chester Hospital NHS Foundation Trust

  • North West Ambulance Service NHS Trust

  • Liverpool University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust

  • Mid Cheshire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust

  • Bridgewater Community Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust

  • Wirral Community Health and Care NHS Foundation Trust

  • Midlands and Lancashire CSU

  • Wirral University Teaching Hospital NHS Found Trust

  • Liverpool Women’s NHS Foundation Trust

  • Central Cheshire Integrated Care Partnership

  • St Helens and Knowsley Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust

  • Alder Hey Children’s NHS Foundation Trust

  • The Walton Centre NHS Foundation Trust

  • Health Education England

  • NHS Cheshire and Merseyside ICB

  • NHS Lancashire and South Cumbria ICB

  • Cheshire and Wirral Partnership NHS Foundation Trust

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  • North East Ambulance Service NHS Trust

  • University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay NHS Foundation Trust

  • Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust

  • County Durham and Darlington NHS Foundation Trust

  • Gateshead Health NHS Foundation Trust

  • The Newcastle Upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust

  • South Tees Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust

  • North of England CSU (NECS)

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South East

  • Kent Community Health NHS Foundation Trust

  • East Sussex Healthcare NHS Trust

  • University Hospitals Sussex NHS Foundation Trust

  • South East Coast Ambulance Service

  • Sussex Community NHS Foundation Trust

  • Sussex Partnership NHS Foundation Trust

  • Queen Victoria Hospital NHS Foundation Trust

  • NHS Kent and Medway ICB

  • NHS Surrey Heartlands ICB

  • Southern Health NHS Foundation Trust

  • Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust

  • Portsmouth Hospitals NHS Trust

  • University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation Trust

  • South Central Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust

  • Solent NHS Trust

  • Royal Berkshire NHS Foundation Trust

  • Oxford Health NHS Foundation Trust

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South West

  • Cornwall Partnership NHS Foundation Trust

  • Devon Partnership NHS Trust

  • South Western Ambulance Service NHS Found Trust

  • Dorset Healthcare University NHS Foundation Trust

  • Gloucestershire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust

  • North Bristol NHS Trust

  • Torbay and South Devon NHS Foundation Trust

  • University Hospitals Plymouth NHS Trust

  • University Hospitals Bristol and Weston NHS Foundation Trust

  • Dorset County Hospital NHS Foundation Trust

  • NHS Blood and Transplant (NHSBT)

  • Gloucestershire Health and Care NHS Foundation Trust

  • Royal Devon University Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust

  • Avon and Wiltshire Mental Health Partnership NHS Trust

  • Great Western Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust

  • Salisbury NHS Foundation Trust

  • University Hospitals Dorset NHS Foundation Trust

  • Somerset NHS Foundation Trust

  • Royal Cornwall Hospitals NHS Trust

  • Royal United Hospitals Bath NHS Foundation Trust

  • NHS Bath, North East Somerset, Swindon and Wiltshire ICB (BSW Together)

  • NHS Devon ICB (One Devon)

  • NHS Dorset ICB (Our Dorset)

  • NHS Gloucestershire ICB (One Gloucestershire)

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West Midlands

  • Midlands Partnership NHS Foundation Trust

  • Herefordshire and Worcestershire Health and Care NHS Trust

  • The Royal Orthopaedic Hospital NHS Foundation Trust

  • Worcestershire Acute Hospitals NHS Trust

  • Shropshire Community Health NHS Trust

  • University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust

  • Birmingham Women's and Children's NHS Foundation Trust

  • Robert Jones and Agnes Hunt Orthopaedic Hospital NHS Foundation Trust

  • Dudley Integrated Health and Care NHS Trust

  • NHS Birmingham and Solihull ICB (BSol ICB)

  • NHS Black Country ICB

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Yorkshire & The Humber

  • Sheffield Health and Social Care NHS Foundation Trust

  • Barnsley Hospital NHS Foundation Trust

  • York and Scarborough Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust

  • Leeds Community Healthcare NHS Trust

  • Bradford Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust

  • Harrogate and District NHS Foundation Trust

  • The Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust

  • NHS England

  • Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust

  • Sheffield Children’s NHS Foundation Trust

  • NHS West Yorkshire ICB

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  •  Cardiff and Vale University Health Board

  • Powys Teaching Local Health Board

  • Welsh Ambulance Services NHS Trust Headquarters

  • Hywel Dda University Health Board

  • Swansea Bay University Health Board

  • Cwm Taf Morgannwg University Health Board

  • Betsi Cadwaladr University Local Health Board

  • Velindre NHS Trust

  • Public Health Wales

  • Health Education and Improvement Wales Health Authority

  • NHS Wales Shared Services Partnership

  •  Digital Health and Care Wales

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  • NHS Borders

  • NHS Education For Scotland

  • NHS Fife

  • NHS National Services Scotland

  • NHS Shetland

  • NHS Western Isles

  • NHS Dumfries and Galloway

  • NHS Orkney

  • NHS Golden Jubilee

  • NHS 24

  • The State Hospitals Board for Scotland

  • NHS Grampian

  • NHS Tayside

  • NHS Ayrshire and Arran

  • The Highland Council

  • Healthcare Improvement Scotland

  • Public Health Scotland

  • NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde

  • Scottish Ambulance Service

  • NHS Lothian

  • NHS Lanarkshire

  • NHS Highland

  • NHS Forth Valley

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Northern Ireland

  • Northern Ireland Practice and Education Council

  • Southern Health and Social Care Trust

  • Western Health and Social Care Trust

  • Belfast Health and Social Care Trust

  • Business Services Organisation

  • Regulation & Quality Improvement Authority

  • Northern Ireland Blood Transfusion Service

  • Public Health Agency

  • Northern Health and Social Care Trust

  • South Eastern Health and Social Care Trust

  • Northern Ireland Ambulance Service

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Patricia Marquis, RCN director for England, told BBC Breakfast that current NHS services were “not safe” and the government has “failed to listen” to what nursing staff have been saying.

She said there are some services that need to continue during strike action to keep patients safe “and we will agree with employers what those are and which staff should be working”.

She added that employers across most of the UK needed 14 days’ notice of strike action, adding: “What I can say is that we intend to take action certainly before the end of this year.”

Industrial action is expected to be held before the end of the year at some of the UK’s biggest hospitals, including Guy’s and St Thomas’ opposite Parliament, the Royal Infirmary in Edinburgh, University Hospital Wales, and Belfast’s Royal Victoria.

The RCN announced on Wednesday that its members in the majority of NHS employers across the UK have backed industrial action.

The strike will be the first time UK-wide action is taken by RCN members in its 106-year history.

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Several health worker unions including Unison and the GMB will announce the result of strike ballots before the end of the month among staff including ambulance drivers and paramedics, hospital porters and cleaners.

Physiotherapists started voting on Monday over industrial action, while a ballot of midwives opens on Friday.

The unions are protesting over a pay award earlier this year of £1,400 for most NHS workers, with the RCN calling for a rise of 5% above the rate of inflation.

Health Secretary Steve Barclay branded the decision to take industrial action “disappointing,” insisting the RCN’s demands are “out of step” with the economic situation faced by the UK.