Wigan nurses on picket line say dispute is ‘about the future of the NHS’

Nurses at Wigan’s hospitals have spoken about why they have chosen to walk out and join the picket line for two days of strike action.
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The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) is leading industrial action across the country on Wednesday and Thursday, following two days of strikes in December.

Staff from Wrightington, Wigan and Leigh Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust were not involved last month, but they have walked out this time as the action escalates.

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IN PICTURES: Wigan's nurses on strike in national dispute over pay
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Workers said the dispute over pay and patient safety concerns was ultimately about “the future of the NHS” and the ability of the health service to attract people to work as nurses and then retain them.

They formed a large picket line on Wigan Lane, outside Wigan Infirmary, where they waved flags and carried placards highlighting their messages.

They were joined on Wednesday morning by RCN chief executive and general secretary Pat Cullen, who was visiting picket lines and speaking to striking nurses.

‘I’ve been a nurse for 35 years and I never thought this day would come’

Nurses waved flags and carried placards on the picket lineNurses waved flags and carried placards on the picket line
Nurses waved flags and carried placards on the picket line

This is the first time in the 106-year history of the RCN that it has balloted its members for strike action and led hospital staff to the picket line.

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The significance of the move was not lost on those outside Wigan Infirmary on Wednesday.

Staff also spoke of their concerns that poor pay levels and ever-increasing workloads were making it more difficult for the NHS to keep nurses, which then has an effect on the quality of patient care.

Mark Oakley, an Admiral nurse specialising in dementia care, said: “I’ve been a nurse for 35 years and I never thought this day would come, but as the slogan says, enough is enough.

Lead admiral nurse Mark OakleyLead admiral nurse Mark Oakley
Lead admiral nurse Mark Oakley

“I’m here because I’m coming towards the end my career but I want to champion what a fantastic role and career nursing is by standing up and getting the Government to actually listen to us. It’s about time we were respected a little more.

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“The workload has got harder and harder and expectations have risen. I think Covid opened everybody’s eyes and raised the profile of nursing and medicine. It was great that we got a clap but that was soon forgotten and then we were told to carry on and get on with it.

“The NHS is suffering and it’s one of the best institutions that has ever been put together. If we don’t look after it and nurture it then it’s going to fall apart.

“I’m so proud to be a nurse, I don’t think I’ve ever wanted to do anything else and I have the best job in the world. Hopefully this will help bring the schoolchildren and the newly-qualified nurses of today into the profession and keep them in the profession.”

‘The career they have dreamed of all their lives has turned into a nightmare’

Staff on the picket line in Wigan, where passing drivers regularly honked their vehicles’ horns, spoke of the pressures the NHS is currently facing and the impact this is having on those working in the health service.

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Michelle Blackburn, an RCN union steward and an advanced clinical practitioner working in the community, said: “I’m really proud that my colleagues have stood up and spoken to get their voices heard.

“We need to increase pay so we can recruit the next generation of nurses. If we can’t do that where is the NHS going to be in 10 years’ time? Pay levels are already slipping and we don’t want them to get any worse, and we don’t want these wait times. Our job is really busy, there’s a lot of pressure to do more and more with less and less staff.

“I want to give the best care to every patient but we need more staff. How are we going to recruit when nurses are earning £14 something an hour and they have to pay student debt off? It’s not going to entice anybody to come into the profession.

“This isn’t just about pay, it’s about the future of the NHS and the standards of patient care.”

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A staff nurse, who asked not to be named, said: “It’s heartbreaking that it has come to this. I never thought in 19 years of being nurse that it would come to this, but it has been coming for many years, since before the pandemic.

“It’s heartbreaking to see staff who are broken and wanting to leave the career they have dreamed of all their lives, but it has turned into a nightmare.

“This is ultimately about patient safety. We’re all patients and we all need the NHS. We can see what’s happening, the RCN has been campaigning for many years and we have not been listened to by the government. For the first time in our careers we are out on strike. Emergency and life-saving care is continuing but there is some disruption with elective surgeries and appointments being cancelled. We are sorry about that but it’s not just on strike days, it’s every day.

“We’re not able to give the care we want to give and that patients need and deserve. The Government says what we are asking for is unaffordable but I say we can’t afford not to invest in the nursing workforce. Everybody needs a nurse at some point. It’s not a luxury, it’s a necessity.”

The RCN has announced that two further, bigger strikes will be held next month if a resolution is not found.