Tag Archives: staff

NHS urges 1.4m staff to have flu jab to reduce risk of epidemic

NHS bosses are writing to all 1.4 million staff to say they must have the winter flu jab as soon as possible to reduce the risk of them infecting patients who might die.

Those who decline the jab will have to tell the NHS trust that employs them why, and it will have to record their reasons, as part of a bid to drive up what the NHS admits are “disappointing” staff take-up rates.

The move comes as the chairman of NHS England admitted on Thursday that health service chiefs were “more scared than we have ever been” about how bad winter could be. There is a strong likelihood of hospitals being inundated with flu sufferers, Prof Sir Malcolm Grant said.

The prospect of a flu epidemic presented a real crisis, added Grant. NHS leaders are seriously concerned that Britain could be hit by its biggest flu outbreak in years this winter. There is acute anxiety because Australia and New Zealand have been experiencing their worst flu season for many years with struggling to cope.

NHS bosses have got tough on staff’s jab uptake as part of a new series of “intensified cross-NHS winter preparations” in a bid to reduce the estimated 8,000 annual deaths from flu in England and Wales.

They are sending out letters to healthcare workers across England urging them to get vaccinated as soon as possible, to reduce the risk of them passing on the flu virus to vulnerable patients, especially older people and those with breathing problems such as asthma, pneumonia and emphysema. It is staff’s professional duty to have the jab, they say.

The letter says: “As winter approaches it is worth reminding ourselves that flu can have serious and even fatal consequences.

“Healthcare workers, as members of the general population, are susceptible to flu. When coupled with the potential for a third of flu cases being transmitted by asymptomatic individuals, it means patients are at particular risk.”

Although a record proportion of NHS staff received the jab last year – 63% – in some trusts as few as 20% of staff took up the offer of free vaccination at work.

In another previously unused tactic, NHS England bosses are writing to all 234 NHS trusts telling them to do much more to ensure staff have the jab. “We require each NHS organisation to ensure that each and every eligible member of staff is personally offered the flu vaccine, and then either signs the consent form or states if they decline to do so,” that letter says.

Grant, speaking at the national children and adult services conference in Bournemouth, said: “We face winter better prepared than we have ever been, but more scared than we have ever been.

“We have the strong likelihood of hospitals being inundated with people suffering flu.”

The NHS is expanding its £237m winter flu campaign by offering free vaccination for the first time to over 1 million people who work in care homes, at a cost of £10m, and also to the 670,000 eight- and nine-year-old pupils in school year four. Those aged two, three and four will be offered a flu vaccination in the form of a nasal spray rather than an injection, however.

In all, 21 million people in England will be offered free immunisation on the NHS. They include pregnant women and anyone over 65 and anyone deemed at clinical risk, for example due to asthma.

“This move to help keep care workers stay well during flu season is a really positive step by the NHS. Not only will it help to protect thousands of care home residents from getting sick, but it sends a strong signal about the importance of social care staff in providing an integrated health and care service,” said Imelda Redmond, the national director of the campaign group Healthwatch England.

Last winter, 133 people died as a direct result of flu after being treated in an intensive care or high-dependency unit in England, Public Health England said.

The NHS has also responded to the widespread shortage of A&E doctors by deciding to expand the number of doctors training to become specialists in emergency medicine from 300 to 400 a year for four years from next year. Currently, about 6,300 different grades of medics work in A&E units across England.

NHS urges 1.4m staff to have flu jab to reduce risk of epidemic

NHS bosses are writing to all 1.4 million staff to say they must have the winter flu jab as soon as possible to reduce the risk of them infecting patients who might die.

Those who decline the jab will have to tell the NHS trust that employs them why, and it will have to record their reasons, as part of a bid to drive up what the NHS admits are “disappointing” staff take-up rates.

The move comes as the chairman of NHS England admitted on Thursday that health service chiefs were “more scared than we have ever been” about how bad winter could be. There is a strong likelihood of hospitals being inundated with flu sufferers, Prof Sir Malcolm Grant said.

The prospect of a flu epidemic presented a real crisis, added Grant. NHS leaders are seriously concerned that Britain could be hit by its biggest flu outbreak in years this winter. There is acute anxiety because Australia and New Zealand have been experiencing their worst flu season for many years with struggling to cope.

NHS bosses have got tough on staff’s jab uptake as part of a new series of “intensified cross-NHS winter preparations” in a bid to reduce the estimated 8,000 annual deaths from flu in England and Wales.

They are sending out letters to healthcare workers across England urging them to get vaccinated as soon as possible, to reduce the risk of them passing on the flu virus to vulnerable patients, especially older people and those with breathing problems such as asthma, pneumonia and emphysema. It is staff’s professional duty to have the jab, they say.

The letter says: “As winter approaches it is worth reminding ourselves that flu can have serious and even fatal consequences.

“Healthcare workers, as members of the general population, are susceptible to flu. When coupled with the potential for a third of flu cases being transmitted by asymptomatic individuals, it means patients are at particular risk.”

Although a record proportion of NHS staff received the jab last year – 63% – in some trusts as few as 20% of staff took up the offer of free vaccination at work.

In another previously unused tactic, NHS England bosses are writing to all 234 NHS trusts telling them to do much more to ensure staff have the jab. “We require each NHS organisation to ensure that each and every eligible member of staff is personally offered the flu vaccine, and then either signs the consent form or states if they decline to do so,” that letter says.

Grant, speaking at the national children and adult services conference in Bournemouth, said: “We face winter better prepared than we have ever been, but more scared than we have ever been.

“We have the strong likelihood of hospitals being inundated with people suffering flu.”

The NHS is expanding its £237m winter flu campaign by offering free vaccination for the first time to over 1 million people who work in care homes, at a cost of £10m, and also to the 670,000 eight- and nine-year-old pupils in school year four. Those aged two, three and four will be offered a flu vaccination in the form of a nasal spray rather than an injection, however.

In all, 21 million people in England will be offered free immunisation on the NHS. They include pregnant women and anyone over 65 and anyone deemed at clinical risk, for example due to asthma.

“This move to help keep care workers stay well during flu season is a really positive step by the NHS. Not only will it help to protect thousands of care home residents from getting sick, but it sends a strong signal about the importance of social care staff in providing an integrated health and care service,” said Imelda Redmond, the national director of the campaign group Healthwatch England.

Last winter, 133 people died as a direct result of flu after being treated in an intensive care or high-dependency unit in England, Public Health England said.

The NHS has also responded to the widespread shortage of A&E doctors by deciding to expand the number of doctors training to become specialists in emergency medicine from 300 to 400 a year for four years from next year. Currently, about 6,300 different grades of medics work in A&E units across England.

Gambling remains a hidden addiction because ‘healthcare staff lack training’

Gambling is often described as a hidden addiction. Yet there are an estimated 400,000 problem gamblers in the UK. Dr Henrietta Bowden-Jones, consultant psychiatrist at the National Problem Gambling Clinic – the only one of its kind in the UK – says that a lack of training among healthcare professionals could partly be to blame for the problem flying under the radar.

“For many years while drug and alcohol addictions were being researched and funded in terms of treatment, the issue of gambling wasn’t taught at medical school,” Bowden-Jones says. “Even as an addictions psychiatrist, we weren’t taught about pathological gambling – I came across it by chance.”

Problem gambling can lead to arguments and emotional violence in the home, she says, often because one person wants to spend money that was saved up for retirement, for example, or the mortgage.

Gambling, Bowden-Jones adds, also moves any focus or passion away from a loved one: “It’s linked to the emotional disconnection you end up having with your partner or children because you’re just not there, either physically because you’re in the bookmakers or mentally because you’re disengaged, thinking about the gambling.”

And problems can go beyond mental or emotional issues: “Physically, we see people who are very underweight because they’re not eating – either because they’re gambling or because they haven’t the money to do so. Addicts aren’t healthy because they sit in front of a screen at home. You can imagine the consequences of not moving for months or years on end.”

One of the biggest issues is that problem gamblers are not accessing treatment or people do not know how to get help. Last year, support charity GambleAware saw 8,800 clients – a fraction of those with a problem.

Dr Jane Rigbye, director of commissioning at the charity, says more resources need to go into raising awareness of the addiction: “Although the impacts are as detrimental to family life, development and health, the kudos it’s given by other professionals isn’t as high as other addictions, partly because there’s no clear pathway for treating someone with a gambling problem.”

One solution is to empower healthcare professionals and have more conversations with them. “They have the skills to deal with this,” Rigbye says. “They just need to have some awareness of where to push people for help.”

I’d lose everything by 11am. It was hard for me to accept the loss

Owen Baily, 34, from Oxfordshire, has learned how to manage his gambling addiction after attending a cognitive behaviour therapy course run by the National Problem Gambling Clinic.

Owen Baily


‘I’ve used drugs – crack cocaine, amphetamines – but the high I experienced when I won big at gambling surpassed anything else.’ Photograph: Graeme Robertson for the Guardian

I was in receipt of benefits for a long time. In the lead up to the day I got my money, I tried to convince myself that I wouldn’t gamble. As soon as I woke up, my thinking changed – I’d become consumed by gambling. I couldn’t think about anything else. I became tense and anxious. It was like the money was burning a hole in my pocket. I tried to resist, but I couldn’t.

I didn’t have breakfast. I was filled with anticipation, tension and anxiety. I became convinced that I could win some money. I dismissed all my past experiences that proved gambling was not a good idea. My mind focused on positive possible outcomes. I was in the bookies as soon as the doors opened. I was oblivious to anyone and anything. It was just me and the terminal.

I’d often lose everything by 11am. It was very hard for me to accept the loss, bearing in mind that I had another 13 days until I got paid again. I’d curse myself and go into a period of depression for 10 or 11 days. It was like I had just assaulted myself. My brain hurt. I felt frustrated and annoyed with myself.

I would go home and wallow in self-pity and make plans for how I was going to survive. I’d check phone boxes for money, wait outside clubs on a weekend night because I knew that’s when people dropped things, and look for loose change on the streets, so I could buy baked beans and bread.

I’ve used drugs – crack cocaine, amphetamines – but the high I experienced when I won big at gambling surpassed anything else. It’s very potent, very toxic, very powerful.

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I was sexually assaulted in the back of my ambulance. Frontline staff need protecting

As an ambulance technician for many years, I have learnt to cope with the many difficult situations and challenges thrown at you in the line of duty.

But a night shift in the centre of town can be tough at the best of times. And I remember this particular night shift as though it happened yesterday.

In March last year my colleague and I were sent on a call to help a man who was drunk and doubly incontinent in the town centre. Patients can present challenges like this, but we are here to help those in need because that’s our duty of care. I dialled in to check with our control centre whether this man was a known patient and whether he posed a known risk. I heard nothing back to sound alarm bells, or even raise slight concern.

When my junior colleague and I went to provide him with assistance, he spat at us. He became verbally abusive. After calming him and transporting him to the ambulance, that’s when it happened. He waited until he had me alone. And then he touched me.

I’ll never forget the look in his eyes. He seized my leg, he grabbed my right breast. Tears come to my eyes now just reliving the shock – and the violation I felt.

It later transpired that this man was a notorious sexual predator and had breached a criminal behaviour order four times. The police and the local hospital had instructions on how to deal with him and ensure he was never left alone with a woman.

But for all the “zero tolerance” stickers displayed in my ambulance, I was put into a dangerous situation that should have been flagged. Only it wasn’t, for the simple reason that there is no formal communication between the services – they just don’t talk to each other. And they aren’t required to.

To this day, services do not work together properly to flag danger to workers. It’s clear something more needs to be done to better protect emergency workers. That’s why, together with my trade union, GMB, we are backing a private members’ bill in parliament, sponsored by Labour MP Chris Bryant, to make assaults against all emergency services staff an aggravated offence.

The bill also calls for a duty of care for employers to ensure that they act to protect frontline emergency workers properly. At this moment in time, there is still no legal protection for paramedics, doctors or nurses. My case shows it is badly needed.

In my own local ambulance trust, there have been more than 1,500 reports of physical and verbal abuse against medics over the past three years. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. These incidents are happening nationwide with alarming frequency.

That night, the man who assaulted me engineered a situation to ensure he had me alone – and I realise now it was a clever game played by someone who had done all this before. The trauma was made worse by the knowledge that it could have been prevented if services spoke to each other and exercised a duty of care. Even after what I went through, steps just weren’t taken to ensure it could not happen again. I felt so let down and alone and I took several months off work.

My perpetrator was eventually sentenced to 39 months in prison – 18 months of that sentence were for the sexual assault on me. But he is due for release before Christmas and I feel sick at the prospect of seeing him again.

I also fear that another frontline worker could be forced to endure what I have unless the law changes. I’m determined that we do something to stop that from happening – and properly protect our protectors.

This series aims to give a voice to the staff behind the public services that are hit by mounting cuts and rising demand, and so often denigrated by the press, politicians and public. If you would like to write an article for the series, contact kirstie.brewer@theguardian.com

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Hospitals in crisis in Uganda as Middle Eastern countries poach medical staff

The failure to stop a brain drain of almost 2,000 of its best doctors and nurses is exacerbating Uganda’s healthcare crisis, reflecting a growing problem across east Africa, say healthcare workers.

At least 1,963 medics are being recruited to work at one hospital alone in Libya, as Middle Eastern countries turn to the region for highly qualified workers to fill their own vacancies, which have increased amid political instability and migration.

Nurses, laboratory technicians and doctors in different fields are being recruited from public health facilities, private hospitals and the not-for-profit sector, with no clear government plan to mitigate the impact on the domestic health sector, medical workers say.

“This one [Libyan] deal, if executed, will worsen the shortage of health workers, undermining service delivery and the investment by donors to the health sector,” said a statement from the Uganda Civil Society HIV Prevention Advocacy Coalition.

The coalition, a group of workers and patients, wants a temporary halt to recruitment, to allow urgent discussions at government level. “This deal will make the health crisis worse in Uganda – actively facilitating export of critical cadres of health workers will accelerate suffering and death,” said Asia Russell, executive director of the Health Global Access Project (Health Gap). “The government is refusing to increase production, retention and motivation of health workers in order to save lives.”

Dona Anyona, of the health system advocacy partnership at Amref Health Africa, said: “It’s not the right move, given the understaffing and its resultant impact on healthcare service provision.

“Besides, it’s not a good return on investment, given the fact that training a health worker is a costly venture and most health workers are educated using public funds – and at the end of the day the citizens who meet the costs of this education do not benefit from their services.”

Uganda continues to face a severe shortage of critical health workers, according to the health ministry. The national health system performs poorly and staff encounter challenges with accommodation and transport, not to mention months without pay.

On top of that, health facilities lack adequate medicines and proper equipment. Just 69% of health posts are filled (pdf) according to figures for 2015. In 2013, the doctor-to-patient ratio was estimated at 1:24,725, with a nurse-to-patient ratio of 1:11,000. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends one physician per 1,000 people.

Although the Institute of Public Policy Research Uganda, a thinktank, sued the government in 2014 to stop the loss of 263 health workers to Trinidad and Tobago, that court case is still pending, and some 3,000 medics left the country between March and June this year alone, according to estimates from activists.

The brain drain of health workers from east Africa is caused by local private recruitment agencies that broker deals mainly with Arab countries – arrangements it is difficult to prevent.

“As a government, we can’t stop health workers from going to work abroad if they want to. Since we have free movement of labour in Uganda, there is no reason as to why we can stop them from going,” said health minister Sarah Achieng Opendi.

“We also can’t absorb all [these workers] in our health government system because of the wage bill and [limits on staff levels]. We tried to put a system to bond health worker students who complete studies on government sponsorship. But it doesn’t work – they took us to court. The case is still pending.”

Every year, at least 320 medical students graduate from Ugandan universities, more than in any east African nation. But public hospitals are very short staffed.

“Uganda’s health worker crisis is caused by multiple factors. The government refuses to provide adequate pay, health workers are not deployed to the areas where they are most needed, and many lack the tools and support to do their jobs effectively,” said Russell.

The medical brain drain is not restricted to Uganda – but common across sub-Saharan Africa. A 2011 study found, for example, that 77% of physicians who had trained in Liberia were working in the US.

Meanwhile, HIV activists have criticised the labour ministry for allowing recruitment agencies to insist that applicants undergo an HIV test, which is against Ugandan law on the workplace.

“Mandatory HIV testing deprives someone of their rights to privacy and dignity, and also those taken through the test and found HIV positive are denied the opportunity to work. Despite the fact that they meet the qualifications, their right to equal opportunity is denied,” said Dorah Kiconco, of the Uganda Network on Law, Ethics and HIV–Aids. “This is wrong on all fronts. HIV does not make someone incapable of doing what they can do.”

Unions call for 3.9% pay rise plus £800 for 1 million NHS staff

Unions have ramped up the pressure on Theresa May over public sector pay by demanding a 3.9% rise for 1 million NHS staff plus an extra £800 to make up for lost earning power during austerity.

Health service personnel from nurses and midwives to paramedics and therapists across the UK are urging Philip Hammond to ensure they receive a salary boost that would add an extra £3bn to the NHS pay bill.

Emboldened by this week’s scrapping of the pay restraint introduced by the coalition government in 2010, NHS staff say their claim would “stop the rot” in the real-terms cut in their earnings they have experienced as a result of seven years of 1% rises or pay freezes.

“Health workers have gone without a proper pay rise for far too long”, said Sara Gorton, head of health at Unison, which has coordinated a joint letter from the 14 unions to Hammond in a direct plea that bypasses the NHS Pay Review Body – which has set their salary rises since 1986.

“Their wages continue to fall behind inflation as food and fuel bills, housing and transport costs rise,” Gorton added. “NHS staff and their families need a pay award that stops the rot and starts to restore some of the earning that have been misused out on.”

The £800 additional payment the unions are seeking is in effect back pay for seven years of 0% and 1% pay rises, which they claim have seen wages fall by 15% in real terms.

The unions’ joint demand comes at the end of a torrid week for May and Hammond over public sector pay, discontent over which played a key role in the election campaign and Labour’s surge in popularity under Jeremy Corbyn.

Mounting pressure forced May to abandon the 1% cap on Tuesday in a symbolic rejection of austerity. The police will now receive an extra 2% next year while prison officers will get 1.7% – though funding must come from within existing budgets. Then on Wednesday the precariousness of May’s position as head of a minority government was underlined when Democratic Unionist MPs, who are keeping the Conservatives in power, backed a Labour motion in the Commons calling on ministers to “end the public sector pay cap in the NHS and give NHS workers a fair pay rise”.

However, the size of the 3.9% claim puts the government in a difficult position. Ministers recognise that holding down NHS staff pay has helped to exacerbate the service’s workforce shortages. Jeremy Hunt, the health secretary, has recently championed the case for nurses receiving a pay boost several times.

But experts say the service’s budget is already so stretched that meeting the unions’ demands would force the Treasury to foot the bill as the NHS could not meet the cost from existing resources.

“This is a large amount of money that they are asking for”, said Anita Charlesworth, director of research and economics at the Health Foundation thinktank and a former director of public spending at the Treasury.

“It’s completely understandable that the unions’ pay claim is an attempt to make up the lost ground in earning power of NHS wages. But the NHS isn’t funded at a level that would enable it to afford a pay increase at that level.”

Saffron Cordery, director of policy and strategy at NHS Providers, which represents hospital trusts, said: “Staff morale is suffering. We need an end to pay restraint that is funded with new money. The NHS is already overstretched financially and any requirement to divert more scarce resources into pay would inevitably impact on patient care.”

Jon Skewes, director of employment relations at the Royal College of Midwives, said “this claims represents fair compensation for the rise in cost of living” that has eroded the value of NHS personnel’s pay. Midwives’s salaries have lost £6,000 in value since 2010, and pay restraint has helped leave the NHS short of 3,500 midwives, he claimed.

Inflation as measured by the Consumer Prices Index rose to 2.9% in August. That is the more comonly accepted measurement of changes to the cost of living, which both the TUC and Corbyn have used in public debate over the cap in recent days.

The unions say the 3.9% boost they want is “a pay rise in line with inflation”. But their claim is based on the alternative Retail Prices Index, which says that inflation is running at 3.9%, far higher than the CPI definition. The unions say that RPI takes beter account of the rising cost of housing and better reflects the financial pressures NHS staff are under.

Their bid comes amid growing signs that the government may use targetted pay to give certain groups of NHS staff a bigger increase than others and also to tackle acute shortages in some areas.

Nurses are likely to benefit from that approach, if Hammond decides to use it. Those in London, where the NHS is struggling to fill 13,000 nursing vacancies, may receive extra cash to reflect the capital’s higher cost of living, especially housing.

Ministers did not reject the unions’ pay claim, despite its size. But a government spokeswoman said that all claims from across the public sector would be considered during the budget-setting process and that NHS staff would get a “fair” rise.

“Public sector workers, including NHS staff, do a fantastic job and the government is committed to ensuring they can continue to deliver world-class public services,” the spokeswoman said.

“The government will continue to ensure that the overall package is fair while also being affordable to taxpayers as a whole. The detail of 2018/19 pay remits for specific pay review bodies will be discussed and agreed as part of the budget process and will be set out in due course.”

As an NHS boss, there is little I can do to reassure EU staff about Brexit

“Should we be worried about Brexit?” As a chief executive of west London mental health NHS trust, I make a point of getting out into our diverse and geographically dispersed services as often as I can. Not for the first time, staff are asking about what Brexit means for them, especially, of course, if they come from another EU country.

We need to deal with the practicalities and ramifications of major political issues like the future of our EU staff post-Brexit. It is also important for me to be as open and honest as I possibly can with our staff. Staff who are used to dealing with complex mental disorders are not easily fooled by a glib throwaway line, well-crafted though it may be.

So, yes, we should be worried, I answer. We have lots of staff from the EU and we need to be focusing on retaining as many as possible. We can’t influence the political discussion, but we want to do everything we can to support our colleagues from the EU.

Currently we have 332 staff from the EU – about 10% of our workforce. They are nurses, consultant psychiatrists, senior doctors, managers, domestic staff, porters, occupational therapists, psychologists and much more besides. Their contribution to our work is as valuable as anyone else’s, and we are clear that we will fight tooth and nail to make sure that they can continue to provide the very best care for our patients and their carers.

This tells me that caring knows no borders. Every single day I see that being caring and acting with professionalism are inherent qualities of dedicated healthcare staff, wherever you are from. The “national” in our name means we are all one service together. As we have seen when responding to the modern challenges we face, divided we fail our patients, together we succeed.

But we cannot (nor should we) pretend that this isn’t a worrying time. If you put yourself in the shoes of our EU staff, a lack of clarity and reassurance suggests there aren’t many who could honestly say they aren’t making plans for their future. Their fate and that of their families, many of whom have settled here and made London their home, hangs in the balance.

The discussion about residency rights is all about who can and who can’t remain after April 2019. It is hardly a warm way to discuss the hugely valuable contribution these staff members of EU origin make.

We need to reframe this conversation to one of why NHS staff from the EU should stay in the UK and continue their tremendous work. We know that skilled professionals are in high demand in other countries. The only way we are going to stop valued colleagues leaving is by strongly making the case for them to stay.

That means thinking innovatively about accommodation in high-cost areas like London, and it means being able to tell staff what their career might look like in 10 or 20 years’ time. This may be difficult to do as we can’t even confirm they will be allowed to stay in the country. As a trust we are doing everything we can to support our staff from the EU, including HR support and passing on practical information, and this is at a time when recruiting and retaining qualified clinical staff is a challenge, for us and for other trusts, in its own right.

But there is precious little we can do to reassure staff about the longer term and we urgently need some clarity from those closest to the ongoing negotiations. If it doesn’t come soon, I fear that staff will begin to take matters into their own hands and leave the service – leaving the NHS and mental health altogether poorer and diminished by the loss of their expertise, skills and care.

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Thousands of nursing staff to protest outside parliament over pay

About 2,000 nursing staff are expected to take part in a demonstration outside parliament on Wednesday afternoon demanding that the government lift the pay cap.

The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) says the 1% cap on public sector pay, which has been in place for seven years, has seen nursing pay fall by 14% in real-terms since 2010. The RCN is threatening industrial action if the cap is not scrapped in the autumn budget.

The demonstration has been timed to begin immediately after the first prime minister’s questions of the new parliamentary year. During the election campaign Theresa May was criticised for saying there were “complex reasons” why nurses were using food banks.

Janet Davies, chief executive and general secretary of the RCN, said: “Experienced nursing staff are leaving in droves – not because they don’t like the job, but because they can’t afford to stay, while the next generation do not see their future in an undervalued profession.

“If the government fails to announce a change of direction in the budget, then industrial action by nursing staff immediately goes on the table.”

Members of the RCN are taking a day of leave to join the protest, which will also be addressed by the actor Tony Robinson and comedian Rob Delaney.

Tony Robinson (@Tony_Robinson)

Midday today! Parliament Square! Scrap the Cap! Scrap the Cap! Scrap the Cap #fairdealfornurses

September 6, 2017

In May, more than 50,000 members of the RCN voted in a poll on pay, with eight in 10 saying they were prepared to go on strike if the pay cap was not lifted. Ninety per cent said they would support industrial action short of a walkout.

The union says there are 40,000 nursing vacancies leaving health and care services without safe and effective staffing. This year, the Nursing and Midwifery Council revealed that more midwives and nurses were leaving the profession in the UK than joining for the first time on record, with the number departing having risen by 51% in just four years.

To coincide with the protest, the RCN has published research it commissioned from YouGov which found that seven in 10 voters believe the NHS lacks adequate nursing staff. A similar proportion believe nurses are underpaid for their work, including a majority of Conservative voters.

YouGov also found that more than half of the 1,624 adults polled on Thursday and Friday last week were willing to pay more tax to make the NHS safer, including a majority of Tory voters.

Davies said: “The public can see the shortage of nurses for themselves. Ministers are significantly out of touch with public opinion. They should heed this warning, scrap the pay cap and help to recruit thousands more nurses for a safer NHS.”

Eleanor Smith MP: ‘NHS staff are undervalued – and demoralised’ | Hélène Mulholland

Eleanor Smith was 11 years old when Enoch Powell, the Conservative MP for Wolverhampton South West, came to Birmingham to deliver his incendiary “rivers of blood” speech in April 1968.

Smith, born and raised in Birmingham, recalls the dismay of her parents, who were encouraged to come to England from Barbados in the 1950s by the likes of Powell. “I remember my mum saying in her Bajan accent: ‘well, he asked us to come over’. It was horrendous. It really was.” Her late mother probably never imagined that just shy of half a century later, the eldest of her seven children would become the first African-Caribbean MP to represent Powell’s old constituency.

When Labour defied expectations by winning 262 seats in this month’s general election, Smith hung on to the marginal seat for Labour, and increased its majority to 2,185 votes, up from 801. Winning felt “enormous” and “humbling”, says Smith, who is also the Midlands’ first black MP. “Wolverhampton has moved on. It’s a lot more diverse, and we need to recognise that.” So is the House of Commons: as one of 52 MPs from an ethnic minority background – of whom 32 are Labour – and also one of a record 208 women elected, the working class grandmother joins the most diverse Commons to date. Smith stresses that the Conservatives’ Paul Uppal, the son of Sikh immigrants, had previously held the seat, but recognises the attention winning Powell’s old seat has received. “When [Powell] was talking about the ‘rivers of blood’, he was on about us,” she says.

Smith, 59, is a theatre nurse. She seems undaunted by the prospect of adapting to a parliamentary career after 35 years in the NHS – all but three spent at Birmingham women’s hospital, now part of the Birmingham women’s and children’s NHS foundation trust. “I want to make sure I do the best that I can,” she says. “I’m probably going to make some mistakes along the way – but as an older woman, I can accept that.”

It’s not the first time Smith has broken new ground. Six years ago, she became the first black woman to be elected president of Unison, the country’s largest public sector union. Fiercely opposed to injustice, she says she became a union activist in the 1980s after a pay and grading exercise which left her and some colleagues worse off. Smith was on maternity leave at the time. “I was demoted, and they did it to quite a number of us,” she says. “It was really bad, as any black nurse who was around at that time will tell you.”

She appealed and won her case. Have things improved for black staff working in the NHS since? “They’ve improved, but the service could do a lot more.” The figures would appear to bear her out: although the second Workplace Race Equality Standard report, published in April 2017 by NHS England, reported improvements in career progression for black and minority ethnic staff in the NHS, they are “significantly more likely to experience discrimination at work” and representation at the highest levels remains significantly lower.

Enoch Powell


Eleanor Smith was 11 when Enoch Powell came to Birmingham to give his ‘rivers of blood’ speech. Photograph: Express Newspapers/Getty Images

Smith says her mum always told her that as a black person she would have to work three times as hard as any white person. Does that still hold true today? “Yes. You might have some who say different, but honestly, are they being true to themselves? You still have to work harder to get the parity with a white person; that’s the way it is.”

Smith made two previous and unsuccessful attempts to be selected as a Labour candidate at a general election. This time, she was urged to stand by Unison – whose backing proved crucial, she says. “Having that support made such a difference. I was comparing my experience with a fellow black MP and we both feel that if it wasn’t for the unions, we wouldn’t be here.”

So what are her priorities now she’s in parliament? The newly elected MP wants to represent a constituency blighted by homelessness and high levels of youth unemployment, and to fight against inequality across society. But the NHS is also close to her heart. Being a nurse, she says, helped her campaign because “voters understand where we’re coming from when we talk about saving the NHS.”

One of five nurses elected to parliament, Smith says NHS staff across the board are underpaid and overworked. “We are losing good people because they feel demoralised. We haven’t had a pay rise in seven years because 1% is a [real terms] pay cut. We are undervalued and more and more work and expectations are being put on us.”

She is also concerned by policies that are believed to be exacerbating nursing shortages. The number of nurses from the EU registering to work in the UK, for example, has dropped by 96% less than a year after the Brexit vote, according to Nursing and Midwifery Council statistics. Meanwhile, applications for nursing courses have dropped sharply following the government decision to scrap NHS bursaries given to student nurses and midwives and replace them with loans from this September.Smith points out that nursing students are expected to work on the wards as part of their training which leaves them with scant spare time to do paid work to make ends meet.

Applications by students in England to nursing and midwifery courses at British universities have fallen by 23%, according to UCAS figures, but Smith says the true figure is likely to be higher since “there is always a percentage that drop out. And I think the dropout rate will be more now as students realise that they are paying £27,000 for the privilege of working on wards as part of their training alongside the studying.” Another of her grievances is NHS staff being asked to check whether patients are eligible for treatment, which she sees as a slippery slope away from a service free at the point of delivery.

It is too early to know exactly how Smith hopes to change things, although she is clear she wants to help fund the NHS properly – and hasn’t ruled out standing for the health select committee. We meet at the end of her first week in parliament. Things have been so hectic since Smith was elected that she hasn’t had a chance to formally inform her employer of her new job since taking an unpaid six week sabbatical. She wants to “stay on the books” to do nursing shifts to maintain her nurse registration. Why? “One never knows what the future holds.”

Curriculum vitae

Age: 59

Lives: Birmingham

Family: Two grown up daughters, one granddaughter

Education: Mount Pleasant comprehensive school, Birmingham; Bournville College, foundation nursing course.

Career: June 2017: Labour MP for Wolverhampton South West; 1984-present: theatre nurse, Birmingham Women’s hospital; 1983-84: theatre nurse, Russell Hall hospital, Dudley; 1982-83: theatre nurse, George Eliot hospital, Nuneaton; 1979-82: general register nurse training, George Eliot hospital; 1976-79: nurse training for learning difficulties, North Warwickshire hospital.

Public Life: Unison representative on the national labour policy forum; TUC general council member; Unison national executive member for West Midlands; 2013 -17: staff nurse governor, Birmingham Women’s Health Care Trust; 2011-12: Unison national resident; 2003-04: Unison assistant regional convenor West Midlands.

Interests: Going to the gym, cycling, swimming, dancing, listening to reggae and R&B music.

Eleanor Smith MP: ‘NHS staff are undervalued – and demoralised’ | Hélène Mulholland

Eleanor Smith was 11 years old when Enoch Powell, the Conservative MP for Wolverhampton South West, came to Birmingham to deliver his incendiary “rivers of blood” speech in April 1968.

Smith, born and raised in Birmingham, recalls the dismay of her parents, who were encouraged to come to England from Barbados in the 1950s by the likes of Powell. “I remember my mum saying in her Bajan accent: ‘well, he asked us to come over’. It was horrendous. It really was.” Her late mother probably never imagined that just shy of half a century later, the eldest of her seven children would become the first African-Caribbean MP to represent Powell’s old constituency.

When Labour defied expectations by winning 262 seats in this month’s general election, Smith hung on to the marginal seat for Labour, and increased its majority to 2,185 votes, up from 801. Winning felt “enormous” and “humbling”, says Smith, who is also the Midlands’ first black MP. “Wolverhampton has moved on. It’s a lot more diverse, and we need to recognise that.” So is the House of Commons: as one of 52 MPs from an ethnic minority background – of whom 32 are Labour – and also one of a record 208 women elected, the working class grandmother joins the most diverse Commons to date. Smith stresses that the Conservatives’ Paul Uppal, the son of Sikh immigrants, had previously held the seat, but recognises the attention winning Powell’s old seat has received. “When [Powell] was talking about the ‘rivers of blood’, he was on about us,” she says.

Smith, 59, is a theatre nurse. She seems undaunted by the prospect of adapting to a parliamentary career after 35 years in the NHS – all but three spent at Birmingham women’s hospital, now part of the Birmingham women’s and children’s NHS foundation trust. “I want to make sure I do the best that I can,” she says. “I’m probably going to make some mistakes along the way – but as an older woman, I can accept that.”

It’s not the first time Smith has broken new ground. Six years ago, she became the first black woman to be elected president of Unison, the country’s largest public sector union. Fiercely opposed to injustice, she says she became a union activist in the 1980s after a pay and grading exercise which left her and some colleagues worse off. Smith was on maternity leave at the time. “I was demoted, and they did it to quite a number of us,” she says. “It was really bad, as any black nurse who was around at that time will tell you.”

She appealed and won her case. Have things improved for black staff working in the NHS since? “They’ve improved, but the service could do a lot more.” The figures would appear to bear her out: although the second Workplace Race Equality Standard report, published in April 2017 by NHS England, reported improvements in career progression for black and minority ethnic staff in the NHS, they are “significantly more likely to experience discrimination at work” and representation at the highest levels remains significantly lower.

Enoch Powell


Eleanor Smith was 11 when Enoch Powell came to Birmingham to give his ‘rivers of blood’ speech. Photograph: Express Newspapers/Getty Images

Smith says her mum always told her that as a black person she would have to work three times as hard as any white person. Does that still hold true today? “Yes. You might have some who say different, but honestly, are they being true to themselves? You still have to work harder to get the parity with a white person; that’s the way it is.”

Smith made two previous and unsuccessful attempts to be selected as a Labour candidate at a general election. This time, she was urged to stand by Unison – whose backing proved crucial, she says. “Having that support made such a difference. I was comparing my experience with a fellow black MP and we both feel that if it wasn’t for the unions, we wouldn’t be here.”

So what are her priorities now she’s in parliament? The newly elected MP wants to represent a constituency blighted by homelessness and high levels of youth unemployment, and to fight against inequality across society. But the NHS is also close to her heart. Being a nurse, she says, helped her campaign because “voters understand where we’re coming from when we talk about saving the NHS.”

One of five nurses elected to parliament, Smith says NHS staff across the board are underpaid and overworked. “We are losing good people because they feel demoralised. We haven’t had a pay rise in seven years because 1% is a [real terms] pay cut. We are undervalued and more and more work and expectations are being put on us.”

She is also concerned by policies that are believed to be exacerbating nursing shortages. The number of nurses from the EU registering to work in the UK, for example, has dropped by 96% less than a year after the Brexit vote, according to Nursing and Midwifery Council statistics. Meanwhile, applications for nursing courses have dropped sharply following the government decision to scrap NHS bursaries given to student nurses and midwives and replace them with loans from this September.Smith points out that nursing students are expected to work on the wards as part of their training which leaves them with scant spare time to do paid work to make ends meet.

Applications by students in England to nursing and midwifery courses at British universities have fallen by 23%, according to UCAS figures, but Smith says the true figure is likely to be higher since “there is always a percentage that drop out. And I think the dropout rate will be more now as students realise that they are paying £27,000 for the privilege of working on wards as part of their training alongside the studying.” Another of her grievances is NHS staff being asked to check whether patients are eligible for treatment, which she sees as a slippery slope away from a service free at the point of delivery.

It is too early to know exactly how Smith hopes to change things, although she is clear she wants to help fund the NHS properly – and hasn’t ruled out standing for the health select committee. We meet at the end of her first week in parliament. Things have been so hectic since Smith was elected that she hasn’t had a chance to formally inform her employer of her new job since taking an unpaid six week sabbatical. She wants to “stay on the books” to do nursing shifts to maintain her nurse registration. Why? “One never knows what the future holds.”

Curriculum vitae

Age: 59

Lives: Birmingham

Family: Two grown up daughters, one granddaughter

Education: Mount Pleasant comprehensive school, Birmingham; Bournville College, foundation nursing course.

Career: June 2017: Labour MP for Wolverhampton South West; 1984-present: theatre nurse, Birmingham Women’s hospital; 1983-84: theatre nurse, Russell Hall hospital, Dudley; 1982-83: theatre nurse, George Eliot hospital, Nuneaton; 1979-82: general register nurse training, George Eliot hospital; 1976-79: nurse training for learning difficulties, North Warwickshire hospital.

Public Life: Unison representative on the national labour policy forum; TUC general council member; Unison national executive member for West Midlands; 2013 -17: staff nurse governor, Birmingham Women’s Health Care Trust; 2011-12: Unison national resident; 2003-04: Unison assistant regional convenor West Midlands.

Interests: Going to the gym, cycling, swimming, dancing, listening to reggae and R&B music.