The Govt’s offer to the Pay Review Body of a 1% pay rise for nurses has rightly caused anger and disappointment. But it really shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone. The underlying narrative for Nursing has been one of self-sacrifice, vocation-driven selflessness, and heroic martyrdom for as long as I can remember, and history tells us, for considerably longer. The pandemic, a once in a lifetime moment to educate the world about what Nursing really is and does, has led only to reinforced views of the age-old tropes.
Media talk of ‘NHS heroes’, or ‘angels of mercy’, the weekly clapping and rainbows in windows are not about acclaiming professional skill and knowledge, but re-emphasising sentimental and misplaced views of what is appropriate recognition for nurses. I’ve posted on here previously about the hero narrative and how unsuitable and unhelpful it is. Yet some within and close to the profession are happy to collude in this – openly criticising higher education for nurses; accepting the hero/angel tag with simpering pride; encouraging a ‘nursing family’ notion; talking about ‘not doing the job for the money’ etc. etc. A patronising 1% pat-on-the-head pay rise is where this nonsense leads. Those who vociferously oppose said narrative are too often accused of being strident, dismissive of others contribution, ungrateful or that over-riding insult – ‘too academic’.
This paltry offer should galvanise the profession into a strategic and wide-ranging campaign to inform and educate the government and the public about the criticality of Registered Nurses to all aspects of public health and welfare, to the outcomes of hospital admission and treatments, to life and death. The scientific evidence of the difference an appropriately educated Registered Nurse makes to patient outcomes is clear as day. But largely ignored. Instead the profession is diluted at the patient interface with no regard for the impact this will have, the misplaced notion of a ‘nursing family’ is embraced without stopping to think of the effect on patient safety. It’s easier to recruit. It’s cheaper to maintain. It’s all nursing anyway, isn’t it? No, it isn’t. But as long as the profession doesn’t push back against this, the 1% will continue to be offered as something to be gratefully received.
It’s not enough for the RCN to start an industrial action fund. That may be necessary, but it’s not enough. If it brings about a bigger settlement now, it won’t have changed those deeply embedded views on nursing as being the privileged work that is a reward in itself. And industrial action (necessary though it may be) may even harm the progress of the changed narrative that is so badly needed.
Nursing shouldn’t have to base its arguments on being hard done by, of working its heart out in a pandemic for precious little, and things not being fair. That’s exactly what keeps it in the position it constantly finds itself. I long to see a campaign that focuses on the primacy of the Registered Nurse in care delivery, that pushes for increasing education qualifications throughout a career, that educates the public about the implications of a diluted workforce, and that fights for the rational acceptance of the Registered Nurse as the safety-critical professional at the centre of health care, warranting a specific salary scale that reflects this and is unburdened by ‘knowing its place’ in an outdated employers hierarchy. Without it, expect many more years of a rainbow as a reward.