NHS nurse strike: North East nurse explains why she joined picket line

Specialist nurse Emma said morale among her colleagues was lower than it had ever been before. Credit: ITV Tyne Tees

An NHS nurse has described the impact staffing levels is having on patient safety as she joined a picket line for the first time in her 40-year career.

Emma, a specialist nurse who has asked to be referred to by her first name, said morale was lower than it had ever been.

She said: "In the last year or so there isn't a week goes by where I'm not in a clinical area, talking to a junior colleague and they're in tears or they're beside themselves or at the end of their tether, or I'm helping on the ward because there aren't enough people. That isn't part of my role and I've never had that before. It isn't getting better."

She added: "Morale is so low. It's lower than it's ever been. It was becoming problematic before Covid and Covid has hit and it has taken the little bit of reserve away. We haven't got it back. There has been no opportunity to decompress and reflect and move on.

"We're still treating patients with Covid and we're under-staffed, under-resourced and exhausted and we have this awful moral dilemma of knowing patients at times aren't safe because we can't do our jobs properly.

"That's a terrible place to be."

Nurses on the picket line outside the Royal Victoria Infirmary (RVI) in Newcastle. Credit: ITV Tyne Tees

She said the impact on patient safety as a result of vacancies was becoming "more and more" marked and added that nurses were finding it more difficult to pay their bills.

She added: "We are losing nurses faster than than they are coming onto the register. I cannot see how things are going to improve without doing something as difficult as this is. This is an awful thing we have to do but we have to do it.

"There isn't a single person on that picket line who isn't worried about what is going on clinically with the patients they have left behind. We've all got that worry but we are here because it is so important."

Emma is one of thousands striking across England, Wales and Northern Ireland for the first time in the Royal College of Nursing's (RCN) 106-year history.

A picket line was in place outside the Royal Victoria Infirmary (RVI) in Newcastle on Thursday 15 December.

Vivienne Dove, senior RCN officer for the Northern region said: "I've never known in my 44 years of nursing, nurses be so adamant that they have to do something and make a stand for their rights and we had to do it now. Enough's enough."

While emergency care and some other services remained open, the Government estimates that 70,000 appointments and procedures were cancelled across England as a result of the strike.

Patients ITV Tyne Tees spoke to were supportive of the action, while the nurses also had the backing of road users beeping in support.

One patient on their way to an emergency appointment said: "I've got a really sore eye and it's a bit of an eye emergency but I think it's essential for them to go on strike. I do support them."

Thousands of nurses have gone on strike for the first time in the history of the Royal College of Nursing. Credit: ITV Tyne Tees

Another said: "I kind of agree with them because when you see them in action - I mean, they're all lovely the people that I've had that have dealt with me, they're just like angels in disguise and I just don't think they're paid enough for what they do."

Today's action has been taking place across three trusts in the North East, in Newcastle, Gateshead and at Northumbria Healthcare which covers services across Northumberland and North Tyneside.

Health secretary Steve Barclay said: "We hugely value the work that nurses do and that's why we accepted in full the recommendations of the independent pay review body.

"It's why last year, when the rest of the public sector had a pay freeze, we recognised the extra contribution that nurses made and nurses received another three per cent at a time a time when many others did not."

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