View from the street: Time to stand with our NHS

George Binette says morale is low amongst NHS staff and that they are angry.

George Binette says morale is low amongst NHS staff and that they are angry. - Credit: Archant

Not so long ago many of us stood outside our front doors on Thursday evenings to applaud NHS and other key workers.

Some even chanted for more Covid testing, the supply of adequate PPE and, yes, a real pay rise for NHS staff.

In late July, the government gave its answer to that last demand: not this year (or next!). Even as Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced modest pay awards for less than 25 per cent of the public sector workforce, he made it plain that NHS staff had received their ‘reward’ in the form of a three-year deal, agreed in 2018.

For thousands already at the top of their grades, this year’s supposed rise was actually another real terms pay cut.

Pay erosion since 2010 has undoubtedly contributed to an acute recruitment and retention crisis across the NHS. There are over 100,000 vacancies, including some 43,000 nursing posts.

As if to rub salt into the wound, the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority announced earlier this month that MPs’ salaries should rise by 4.1pc or £3,360.

But these sums pale in comparison to the billions squandered on a privatised test and trace system that has proved anything but “world-beating”.

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From the remarkable rise of Baroness Dido Harding, a virtual blank cheque to Serco and over £6,000 a day to consultants, the government appears to have lavishly rewarded failure.

Little wonder, then, that alongside exhaustion and low morale there is anger among NHS workers – anger of a sort that spurs Homerton Hospital staff to protest in pouring rain outside their workplace and leaflet Overground commuters on a chill October evening.

In isolation such actions won’t move the government, but surely the time has come to take to the streets in force, with appropriate measures to minimise transmission, to stand up for the NHS and its workforce even as a second Covid wave threatens to engulf them.