"We're not striking for us, we're doing it for our patients"

nurse strike
One nurse on why strikes are necessaryGetty Images

You don't become a nurse for the money. That's honestly the last thing from your mind. I became a nurse to help people – it's as simple as that. Nursing is a profession where you really give all of yourself; who you are as a person and your interactions with patients can be vital to their wellbeing and, in many cases, their survival. You have to really care to do a job like this.

And yet, last month I went on strike and, should pay discussions currently underway between the nurses' union and the government not prove fruitful, I will do so again. Junior doctors have already announced that they will be striking this month, as have other health workers. If I love my job so much and if I care about my patients so much, people ask, why did I strike? Why will I strike again? I think this is a common misunderstanding. What people can't grasp is that we're not really doing this for us: we're doing it for our patients. We're doing it because we care.

I qualified as a psychiatric nurse in 2019 after years of working in mental health units for young people. It meant that I had only one full year of 'normal' nursing before Covid hit. I could feel first-hand the experience of a lack of staff, and how that affected the pain of the patients. At that point I was working horrendously long hours, at a hugely scary and stressful time, and realised how little we could do to really help our patients with not enough resource.

It's too easy to blame Covid though. This is actually nothing to do with the pandemic; instead it points to an issue which predates it and has outlasted it. As time goes by, we're getting less and less support staff. You can't blame them. It's a vicious circle: bad pay means fewer nurses; fewer nurses means longer hours and poor quality of care, which makes the job less desirable. When you care about helping your patients and the state of this profession means you can't offer the best treatment, it's beyond frustrating.

People also don't seem to grasp how personally affecting this job can be and how little support we receive. You can lose patients, you can see terrible things, and its very rare to receive mental-health assistance. This is on top of the fact that we are all exhausted from gruelling shifts, often back to back. For most of my career – even now, as a senior nurse – I have had to work overtime, taking on more and more shifts and working six days a week, in order to make enough to live. I shouldn't have to do that. Not only is that dangerous for me, it's dangerous for my patients.

I got trolled online when I posted abut striking, and I've seen media coverage which makes us look selfish and greedy. I wish I could take these people with me on a day at work. Then they would see how bad the conditions are, how draining the work is, how under-resourced we are, how there is no time to catch your breath, almost no time to sleep in the week. This is damaging to all concerned – health workers and patients alike. There needs to be so much change; mental support for staff, better pay and free training (which we used to have), which will guarantee better quality staff and more people being drawn to the profession.

It was a hard decision to decide to strike. My main hesitance was that I wouldn't see my patients. One asked me the other week, 'Who will look after me?' and it broke my heart. I had to explain that I was doing it for them, but that's a hard thing to make a someone who needs you understand. But I keep going back to the fact that this government has left us with no choice. We are a vital service which is simply not being supported enough. It's not OK that we are so under-resourced that quality of care is affected. It's not OK that we are working this tirelessly for pay that doesn't even cover most people's rent. They clapped for us when we were putting our lives on the line, but they still won't pay us what we deserve.

You Might Also Like