'Open your eyes and come to the hospital' - nurse's plea to Rishi Sunak

Members of the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) on the picket line outside the Bristol Royal Infirmary Credit: PA

Dozens of nurses joined the picket line outside the Bristol Royal Infirmary in Bristol city centre for the second day of the Royal College of Nursing strike.

They described the environment inside the hospital as "really pressurised" due to low staff numbers.

Nurses across the UK are striking as the Government is sticking to the recommendations of the independent pay review body which said nurses should get a pay rise of around £1,400.

The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) union has been calling for a pay rise at 5% above inflation, though it has indicated it would accept a lower offer.

Liril Jacob is an advanced nurse practitioner within cardiac surgery at the Bristol Royal Infirmary (BRI).

She said the main reason she is on strike is patient safety.

“It is not safe because we have staff shortages – acute staff shortages everywhere – and that’s compromising patient safety," she said.

“So, we want to prioritise patient safety first by making sure that staff shortages are gone. We also want fair pay for nurses. Nurses have been working really hard. When the pandemic happened, they risked their lives and worked for the community. We want fair pay. Inflation has gone up but has the nurses’ salaries gone up? No. We want all that to happen and that’s why we are striking.”

Ms Jacob described the daily working environment inside the hospital as “really pressurised” due to a lack of staffing.

“It is a really pressurised situation and everyone is trying to help each other as much as possible,” she said.

“There is support but it is not enough. We need staff on the floor to care for patients. Sometimes it’s just one staff member looking after eight or 10 patients.”

Ms Jacob thanked the support from members of the public while they have been on the picket lines.

“It is so heart-warming to see the public support and they are all honking their horns,” she said.

“It is so nice to see that there is so much public support towards the strike. I hope that the Government will also see this appreciation for nurses and do something for that.”

Speaking directly to the Prime Minister, Ms Jacob said: “Please see this, please open your eyes and come to the hospital and see that the staff are struggling and that patient safety is at risk.”

Rishi Sunak has insisted he cannot budge on NHS pay because he does not want to exacerbate soaring inflation as he comes under increasing pressure to negotiate with striking workers.

The Prime Minister told his first appearance at the Commons Liaison Committee he was standing by the recommendations of the independent pay review bodies, which he said had taken into account “forward estimates of inflation”.

Rishi Sunak facing the Commons Liaison Committee Credit: House of Commons/PA

Addressing those workers contemplating striking this Christmas, Mr Sunak said: “I’ve acknowledged it is difficult, it’s difficult for everybody, because inflation is where it is. And the best way to help them and help everyone else in the country is for us to get a grip and reduce inflation as quickly as possible.

“And we need to make sure that the decisions that we make can bring about that outcome. Because if we get it wrong and we’re still dealing with high inflation in a year’s time, that’s not going to help anybody.

“I don’t want to see that, I want to see things get back to normal, and that’s why having an independent pay process is an important part of us making those decisions and getting them correct.”

'I don’t see that there’s any alternative' - band 6 nurse

Donna, a band 6 senior staff nurse on the picket line at the BRI today, said she was “devastated” to have taken the personal decision to strike.

She said: “I have been a nurse for 40 years and I would never have considered striking and now we find ourselves in this position.

“It’s very distressing but I don’t see that there’s any alternative. I’m here for the future really.

“My career will finish in the next five to 10 years but I’m really concerned about patient safety at the present time. But also the future. Recruitment is so difficult, and each department has got vacancies all the time.

“We don’t get any suitable applicants for the positions. The young nurses that I work with are paying such high rents and they’ve got degrees, so I’m here because of the future.

“I want a strong workforce for the future, and I want the NHS to continue so that it is there for the generations to come.

“I come from an NHS family, I worked out this week that between us all past and present since 1948, when the NHS started, we’ve got about 200 years’ service in my family, including paramedics, who will be striking on Wednesday. So I’m invested, I’m NHS through and through, I’m invested in the now, but my concern is the future.”

Liz, a band six senior staff nurse, also said she was supporting the strike to protect the future of the NHS.

“If we don’t strike today, then tomorrow we will be in difficulties because the nurses of the future won’t want to work in the NHS,” she said while outside the BRI.

“What we are doing is protecting the NHS and protecting the nurses and indirectly also protecting the wider world.

“During Covid-19 we realised the nurses are a big workforce within the NHS and if you don’t keep up with the numbers of nurses needed then I think there will be a real crisis in the future.”