'No nurses want to strike. We want to be looking after patients'

Whilst some hospital services will be unaffected, a number of planned procedures have been cancelled. Credit: ITV News West Country

"I just can't see myself staying in the NHS."

Those are the words of one woman who has been working as a qualified nurse for the past 25 years.

Nic Walker spoke to ITV News West Country as nurses across the country prepare to go on strike for the first time.

She said no nurse wants to strike, but many feel they have no choice.

Another striking nurse, Jane Matthews, spoke of the NHS 'haemorrhaging staff' while anecdotally Nic had heard of people leaving the profession to work for less pay in coffee shops to protect their mental health.

Nursing union the Royal College of Nursing is calling for a pay rise above inflation of around 17%, but the Government says this is neither affordable or reasonable.

While some hospital services will be unaffected, a number of planned procedures have been cancelled. The advice for patients is to still attend hospitals for appointments or emergencies unless they have been told not to.

Jane, who is a nurse in Bristol, said she's walking out to stand up for patient safety.

"I don't like turning up for work and knowing that the patients in my area are not being cared for as I would like to [care for them]," she said.

"On ninety per cent of shifts, we do not have the best safe staffing levels that we would like to work with, which means patients' safety is being compromised every day of the week.

"We are haemorrhaging staff. People are fed up of the constant stress, the constant demands on our time that we haven't got, working late in order to care for the patients as well as we can.

"We're all getting to a point where it is unsustainable the amount of pressure that we're on. You've got people going off for stress which impacts on the cover that we can give. We wouldn't be looking after our staff members if we made them come in when they're not well enough to."

Jane said nurses did not want to strike but the action was a last resort.

"We're striking but we're ensuring that we can still support and care for our patients," she added.

"Going on strike is totally against my personal principal - I came into nursing to care. But I can't give them the care they need on the staffing levels we've got, and the only way we're going to improve the staffing levels and recruit people is better pay."

Credit: ITV News West Country

Nic Walker is a research nurse in Exeter but she is considering leaving the profession after 25 years.

She is calling for more Government investment in nursing training, including reinstating a bursary, as well as giving nurses a pay rise in line with inflation.

"Then we can have all of our homegrown nurses," she said. "The Government must be spending lots and lots of money to go and recruit nurses from overseas. So the impact of that is not just patient safety here.

"I think it's a real shame because I definitely don't want to be striking but we don't see any other way to move forward on the issues of pay and safe staffing levels."There are about 47,000 vacant nursing posts at the moment. What that means is the pressure on the nurses that are working is greater because there are less of them. We have some great non-registered colleagues that we work with that are skilled, but they don't have the same set of skills that a qualified registered nurse has.

"I qualified [as a nurse] 25 years ago and my career pathway has gone from working on the wards to working in research and development.

"I think since 2010 my pay has gone down in real terms by about 20% which is a lot. So the only way for me to earn more money now would be to try to apply for a higher management job but that takes us even further away from patient care in my mind and it's not something that I want to do so I just can't see myself staying in the NHS.

"I've spoken to doctors that talk about really experienced nurses that they work with leaving nursing and going to work in coffee shops and things like that just because the pay may be less but the working conditions are so much better for their mental health, stress levels and their family."

Credit: ITV West Country

Nic says the difference in pathways into nursing has affected recruitment.

"Since I qualified nursing training has changed quite a lot," she said. "I got the bursary so I was paid to do my nursing training and I worked on the wards.

"Now nurses have to pay to do their degree as with anybody else going to university, so they're coming out with more debt and having below-inflation pay rises each year means that they lose money in real terms every year.

"If we're honest it has been a predominantly female profession and a lot of more mature students would come into nursing perhaps after having children. They can't afford to go into the profession now so applications in that group of people are going down.

"No nurses want to strike," she added. "We want to be looking after patients."

"I know that for this strike action to be done properly ensuring patient care and care aren't compromised is so important, but really want we want is the Government to be negotiating about pay so that we don't have to strike."

The government says it has accepted the recommendations of the independent NHS pay review body, which has suggested a 5.5% pay rise.