Almost three quarters of voters say too few nurses to offer safe care

Posted On: 
5th September 2017

Almost three quarters of voters believe there are too few nurses to staff the NHS safely, while two thirds think those on the frontline are not paid enough.

Nursing staff protested against the pay cap in June
PA Images

A poll commissioned by the Royal College of Nursing found 72% of the British public agreed that nursing numbers were too low, while 68% - including a majority of Tory voters - felt those in the profession were underpaid.

The YouGov poll comes as around 2,000 nursing staff gather outside Westminster today to call for and end to the 1% pay cap, which has been imposed on public sector workers since 2010.

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The RCN says pay freezes and below-inflation increases have seen nurses' pay drop by 14% in real-terms since the cap came in.

It adds that the reduction, which it argues amounts to £3,000 per year, is part of the reason there are 40,000 nursing vacancies in England, as they fail to retain staff or attract new recruits.

The body has threatened to strike if the forthcoming autumn budget fails to see off the cap, however reports at the weekend suggested Theresa May could make changes later this month, with nurses among the first to benefit from a potential pay rise coming in next April.

The study also reveals 57% of voters would be willing to pay more in tax to improve the health service, including a majority of Conservative voters.

Janet Davies, Chief Executive and General Secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, said the Government now needs to prove it is in touch with public opinion.

“The public can see the shortage of nurses for themselves. Ministers are significantly out of touch with public opinion," she said.

"They should heed this warning, scrap the pay cap and help to recruit thousands more nurses for a safer NHS.

“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 under-valued 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.”

Shadow Health Secretary Jon Ashworth said ministers should change the rules to bring pay in line with the "compassion and dedication" nurses offer in their roles.

"The Government’s public sector pay cap has created a workforce crisis in the NHS which is driving trust deficits and causing misery for patients," he said.

“Some Tories are hinting the cap will eventually be lifted but they voted against Labour’s amendment to lift the pay cap earlier in the summer. It's simply not good enough.

"Nurses, midwives and paramedics should be valued and rewarded for the brilliant work that they do and the Government must make their plans on NHS pay clear now, before it is too late.”