Burned out Black Country nurses poised to vote in strike ballot

Thousands of nurses serving in NHS hospitals including the Black Country and Staffordshire are a step closer to taking industrial action over pay.

Many blame long shifts, feelings of burnout, struggling to make ends and concerns over patient safety for the move to vote for walk out.

It is the first time in its 106-year history the Royal College of Nursing is holding a UK-wide ballot or strike action over inadequate pay and nationwide nurse shortages.

The college's Black Country Healthcare representative Phil Cole said: "There are a number of issues that are of concern to nursing staff. It's about the availability of staff. People are leaving because there are not enough hands. It's dependent on bank and agency staff.

"Those coming up to retirement are thinking about leaving. I'm talking to members who just don't want to come to work anymore. They are complaining of burnout, and they are also worried about patient care.

"When I started out in nursing you knew everyone on your ward and all of your colleagues and are used to working together. It's become a situation where you don't know people, leading to concerns about safe care.

"Then there is the cost of living crisis and the impact of having to work long shifts, childcare and in the case of community nursing colleagues, the fuel cost of driving to appointments.

"This has been happening over time and it's not since the onset of Covid. Austerity measures have resulted in an attack on public sector pay and the pandemic has exacerbated the situation."

Mr Cole, a learning disability nurse, said he was confident that members would vote in favour of pickets, but he said that patient care would be maintained if strike action was taken.

"It depends on each hospital. Everyone wants patient safety to be put first. A strike committee is set up with hospital management to agree on which staff can walk out, to avoid patient safety being compromised.

"Staff will be able to support any strike action, but as nurses we have a code of conduct which we abide by with a view to acting respectfully," he explained.

The college's West Midlands chairman and Staffordshire nurse Mark Butler added: “When NHS nursing staff are having to forgo meals or stop paying into their pension so they can afford to clothe their children or travel to work, the time has come to say enough is enough.

“Ministers have refused to give NHS workers the pay rise they need and deserve despite employers sounding the alarm that more and more of their staff are leaving for better paid jobs in shops, pubs and restaurants.

“Patients and their families deserve better. They shouldn’t have to fear that when they need them, nursing staff won’t be there in sufficient numbers to keep them safe and well looked after.

“Calling on our members to vote in favour of strike action is not a decision we have taken lightly, but we hope the public understand that it’s patient care that is compromised when the Government chooses to wilfully undervalue nurses and nursing.”

The ballot is expected to run until November 2.

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