Nurses' Strike. Again.
A month after starting my BSN Internship in Kenya, there was a countrywide nurses' strike. It lasted about three months during which I packed my bags and travelled back home because services were at a stand still. Our salary was still paid even though we were not working. This meant that we would go three months without pay at the end of our intership because we still had to do placements in all hospital departments.
I don't have to mention how this arrangement inconvenienced us but those affected most were the people who relied on government hospitals. I might also mention it's a lot of people. However, the nurses had a reason to strike. They were striking for better pay and better working conditions among other things. They were striking for our future. It is sad that conditions remained same, forcing some us to leave home. And they are still same to date.
When I relocated to the UK, I naturally assumed that such strikes were a thing of the past. We have this image in our heads that first world countries are synonymous with perfection. Perfect working conditions., perfect pay to make you very rich, perfect leaders and systems and so on. So as I was aboard the Qatar Boeing to Heathrow, I knew 'happily ever after' awaited me.
A few years in, that image is long gone. I have come to the realization that perfection does not exist anywhere. We are in the middle of a nurse's strike among other strikes. The cost of living is on a record high and that dream of being very rich is still a distant one.
So why and how are the nurses striking across the UK?
The main reason for the strike is pay. The cost of living is getting worse by the day but the nurses' salaries remain almost the same. There is staff shortage across the NHS and nurses are forced to work longer and harder. The government awarded a pay rise of 3% in 2021-2022 which is negligible given inflation. The RCN wants a pay rise of 5% above inflation rate, a campaign they call Fair Pay. But Fair Pay is not about money only. Its also about patient safety. Fair Pay means better retention and more recruitment, enabling safe staffing levels.
The first step was the ballot to strike. Before this, there had been a previous one where members were asked whether they considered the 3% pay rise accepatable. A majority thought it was not. In the next ballot the voting members were asked whether they would partcipate in a strike. Ballots were sent by post and all the members had to do was vote yes or no and post it back, For the first time in a very long time, the UK nurses were set to strike.
Strike schedule. Unlike in Kenya where all nurses just up and leave there jobs for long periods until the union calls off the strike, in the UK there are specific strike days for different hospitals and regions. On top of this, some departments like Critical Care, chemotherapy, dialysis and paediatric A&Es are derogated and exempt from striking. Patient safety remains key. Makes me wonder whether patient safety is prioritised by unions back home.
Compensation. Any members of the RCN who picket and are not paid for the strike days are compensated by the union. This has allowed eligible members to strike without fear of losing income.
The strikes is still on. There government has not reacted as they should to the matter. We only hope that this is resolved soon because again, the people that suffer most are the patients who need our services.