Voices from the picket line: Nurses explain why they are taking part in national strike

Thousands of nurses across England walked out on Wednesday and Thursday as the bitter pay dispute with the government continues.

More than 55 health trusts have taken part in industrial action, urging the government to increase their pay and review their working conditions.

ITV News Anglia spent time with five nurses on the picket line outside the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital to ask them why they had decided to strike.

Rachel Emberson has been a nurse for 43 years. Credit: ITV News Anglia

Rachel Emberson has been a nurse for 43 years. In 1979, she stood on London Bridge protesting about NHS reform and now she is back on the picket line.

"When I first started nursing, the Tory government was closing hospitals and we said then: 'cuts costs lives'. And here we are again.

"The conditions we are working in are pressured all the time - we are constantly being expected to do more than we have the energy and resources for. We try our best, we work so hard and everybody puts in that extra bit. We always have but they always want more.

"Going on strike is not something I wanted to do: I love my job, I love being a nurse. It's the best job but it just makes me sad because I'm not being able to give the care to patients in the way I want to, I'm not looking after my colleagues the way I want to because we are just too short-staffed.

"I just want to say to the government, look after us because we are the ones looking after the country. Look after the NHS, look after the nurses and respect the work we do, pay us properly so that people want to join the profession and make sure our working conditions enable us to feel happy and feel safe."

Emergency department nurses Lucy Phenix and and Molly Armes. Credit: ITV News Anglia

Lucy Phenix and Molly Armes are nurses working in the emergency department - where they say they are overworked to the point of exhaustion.

Molly Armes said: "It's just reached a point where enough is enough. A lot of people have said they are concerned that the strikes will mean that the hospitals are not safe for patients and for people that need help in emergencies but the reality is, it is not safe every day anyway.

"We are working with more patients than we should be, with limited numbers of staff and people are leaving because they can't cope with it anymore.

"After the stress and the strain of Covid, it's just reached breaking point."

Lucy Phenix said a lack of facilities meant staff were getting changed for their shifts in toilets.

"That means we have nowhere safe to keep our stuff and we don't have anywhere to get changed - we're getting changed in a toilet cubicle.

"You adjust and you adapt but because we are constantly adapting, you can't get used to anything and it's just so stressful every single day. You are constantly shattered.

"I've been nursing 10 years but I think if I was just starting out nursing now, I wouldn't be able to cope with it. It is too much to ask young nurses especially to deal with. It's not sustainable to carry on like this."

  • The hospital said a programme of upgrades was under way to improve staff facilities.

James Harvey Credit: ITV News Anglia

James Harvey is a nurse with 30 years' experience in three different countries. He said he had witnessed staff struggling to get equipment to cardiac arrest patients.

"Staff levels have deteriorated so much that I feel it's not safe, now.

"We used to have six patients to a bay and we now regularly have seven or eight and I feel that actually, we are not working within the code of conduct that we should be. It's just not safe anymore.

"If you have a cardiac arrest on the ward now, doctors and nurses can't get the equipment in fast enough to treat them because there's just too many patients on the bay.

"I've seen that once or twice now. It's a sad reflection of the NHS at the moment. We need to start paying staff for their experience and knowledge so that we can retain staff and only then will patients get the care they need."

  • The Norfolk and Norwich Hospital said that it takes the difficult decision to put extra beds on wards only in extreme circumstances.

Ellen Nierop Credit: ITV News Anglia

Ellen Nierop, has been a health care assistant for nearly a decade. She is paid less than £11 an hour.

"It's not been an easy decision to strike: it goes against every instinct as a nurse and what we believe in but we have tried everything to try and get some kind of change in the hospital and in the NHS in the wider sense because it's just falling to pieces at the moment.

"The staff are so overworked that they are leaving because of the stress and general poor conditions they are working in and when they leave, that means other nurses are picking up the slack which takes its toll on their mental health too and then they want to leave as well.

"I think the majority of us aren't even striking for more money for ourselves but we are thinking about anyone out there who might want to come into the profession - we want them to stay, rather than leaving.

"I just feel angry now. Really angry. Because the government could put money into it. The government does have money, it's just that they choose where to put it and they aren't choosing not to put it into the National Health Service. If they were to invest into the service it would make a big difference and make sure people get treated properly.

"I have thought about leaving but in my heart, this is where I need to be. It is a vocation and I love my job but I would earn more money if I went to work in a supermarket. Why are we being punished for having a vocation? Why should it be this race to the bottom?"

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