A healthcare system which was once the jewel in the British crown is in crisis as demoralised nurses and midwives are quitting the NHS in their thousands. The 1,783 who left in the last financial year were joined by a further 3,264 in April and May this year. These are record numbers which are only expected to rise. It is hardly surprising that swathes of healthcare workers are choosing to leave the NHS in the face of low pay, poor working conditions and benefits, and an increased workload. These long-term underlying issues across the health sector appear to have reached a breaking point.
During a TV election debate in June, Theresa May came under fire for telling a nurse who had not received a pay rise in 8 years, “There’s no magic money tree”. Money is a key issue in this dilemma: a major factor affecting the nurses’ decisions to leave is the cap on pay rises in the public sector. The 1% pay cap means nurses can only gain a maximum 1% pay rise on their annual salary. As living costs continue to rise, this has left many nurses unable to afford housing near to their hospitals. In real terms, nurses are feeling the pinch as they are £3,000 worse off compared with 2010 . As a result, many are simply unable to afford to stay in their profession. Both the Royal College of Nursing and the Royal College of Midwives are calling for the government to scrap this pay cap.
The nurses and midwives’ disillusionment also stems from the quality of care which they are able to provide their patients with, which is affected by the ratio of staffing per patient. This lack of staffing adds to the workload and pressure of a job which can be life-and-death.
Brexit has also played a role in creating this situation, as it has threatened the job security of healthcare workers who came to Britain from the EU. Theresa May’s failure to reassure EU workers in the UK means they now fear they are not welcome. Of those nurses and midwives who have left, a third admitted Brexit was a factor encouraging them to work abroad. This means Britain is losing vital skilled European workers as they return home. To make matters worse, many new workers cannot afford to join the NHS to replace those who have been lost. This is a direct result of the government’s controversial scrapping of bursaries for student nurses this year.
Jeremy Corbyn received a lot of traction with the public during his election campaign calls for a huge increase in funding to the NHS. With this in mind, it would seem the public would be willing to pay slightly higher taxes in order to help fund an NHS workforce which is currently desperately under-staffed, under-resourced, and clearly highly disillusioned.
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This article originally appeared on The Debrief.