Nurses from one of the best-known children’s hospitals in the world have stressed that having clinically advanced equipment and facilities means nothing without adequate staffing.
Speaking from a picket line outside Great Ormond Street Hospital (GOSH) in London this morning, striking nurses said short staffing was affecting their hospital like it was all trusts nationally.
Jodie Elliott, senior staff nurse in a cardiac catheter lab, told Nursing Times: “I’m out here today because basically, from what me and my colleagues have seen now in the NHS, things are getting really unsustainable.
“Fortunately, here at Great Ormond Street, we’ve got loads of fantastic equipment, but it’s nothing without the people.
“Ultimately, that’s what we’re asking for, is investment in the people who work here.
“Because without that expertise or the care, or sometimes it’s just hands and boots on the ground, you don’t have an NHS essentially.”
Ms Elliott said staffing had “100%” become more of a problem recently and warned that staff morale was suffering.
“I think now, for a lot of people, it’s very normal to come on shift and to know that you haven’t got enough staff really to do your job effectively,” she added.
“And that’s getting more and more tiring, and it’s really starting to grind people down, morale is quite low.”
However, she praised the “determination” of staff to continue against these pressures to deliver for patients, noting how the NHS had for a long time been running on the “goodwill” of professionals.
The strikes today mark the sixth day of national action in England organised by the Royal College of Nursing since December, as part of the ongoing dispute over NHS pay.
Unions are campaigning for an improvement to the pay award that was issued to Agenda for Change staff for the current financial year, 2022-23, which is drawing to a close.
While ministers in England have refused to renegotiate on this year’s pay, their counterparts in Scotland and more recently Wales have put forward enhanced pay offers for NHS staff there.
Ms Elliott said her decision to strike was about the “big picture” and improving recruitment and retention for the future.
While services would be affected by strikes, Ms Elliott noted that operations were already being cancelled on normal days due to short staffing.
Angie Rojas, staff nurse in children’s intensive care at GOSH, was attending the picket line in her free time in-between night shifts to show her support for the strikes.
Ms Rojas said her unit was having to rely on nurses working extra shifts through the hospital bank in order to meet safe staffing numbers.
For example, she highlighted how her shift this evening – the third in a row of three night shifts – will be a bank shift.
Despite nurses taking on extra work, Ms Rojas said pressures in services were still high and staff sometimes felt like they could not provide the best care, which she described as “heartbreaking”.
“Sometimes people don’t get their breaks, some people are struggling to give a good quality care,” she told Nursing Times.
“You don’t get to do everything you can or everything you want, because you don’t have that extra pair of hands that would make changing the position of a patient with a breathing tube in safe.
“That’s what is happening in ITU. It is very, very hard to give 100%.”
Having come to the UK from her home country of Spain eight years ago to join the NHS, Ms Rojas said she now feared for the future of the health service and worried about privatisation.
She urged the government in England to “listen and sit down and talk to us”.
“We’ve worked really hard during the pandemic and everyone is struggling, but we haven’t seen recognition from the government, per se,” added Ms Rojas.
“This is an amazing system, the NHS, and we are letting it completely down and it is so sad.
“I come from Spain and we have a similar system and we should be looking after that so everyone has the same good quality care.”
Also on the picket line at GOSH was trainee nurse practitioner Gemma Bea, who warned that pay for nurses had failed to keep up with their advancing role in services and called for reform.
She told Nursing Times: “The degree that we’re expected to work at has gone up and up over the years.
“We’re expected to work at a degree level now, everyone’s out here getting masters.
“We’re all built up to kind of expect more of our role, of ourselves and to hold our worth high.
“But actually, the foundations of the system that we’re working in, just don’t value us at all, and it’s reflected in our pay.
“It hasn’t matched the living standards, it hasn’t matched the expectations that we’re meant to work at. So, I’m here to put my voice forward and say, we do deserve better.”
Ms Bea, who has worked at GOSH for 10 years, noted how the hospital was at the “forefront of medical science” and care being provided was increasingly complex, and yet nurses were having to take on extra shifts just to get by financially.
Asked if she believed the Agenda for Change system that determines NHS nurse pay needed to be revamped, Ms Bea said “absolutely”.
“It’s not just my generation, it’s previous generations that have said that there’s a problem with the pay,” she added.
“Just because we work in a compassionate, vocational job, does not warrant being underpaid.
“Everybody needs health care at some point in their life, and we should be considered as highly as like the bankers for being paid our worth.”
A GOSH spokesperson said: “We completely respect the right of staff to take part in lawful industrial action.
“While pay is a matter for government and the trade unions, our staff are valued and respected by the organisation, and we understand the importance of good pay and conditions for individuals and their families.”