Nurses 'dreading Christmas' with many 'worried about paying rent' warns union boss Pat Cullen

20 December 2022, 10:00 | Updated: 20 December 2022, 15:55

RCN boss Pat Cullen
RCN boss Pat Cullen. Picture: Getty

By Kit Heren

Nurses are dreading Christmas this year, with some worried about losing their homes and keeping up with rent payments, union boss Pat Cullen has said on the second day of strikes.

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Thousands of Royal College of Nursing members walked out on Tuesday again over a pay dispute, in the second day of the industrial dispute following last Thursday's strike.

Nurses have pushed for a 19.2% pay rise, which ministers have said is unaffordable. But Ms Cullen told LBC's Nick Ferrari that some nurses live in "absolute fear of not being able to make ends meet".

Some nurses are 'absolutely dreading' Christmas, says RCN's Pat Cullen

She said: "I've been a nurse now for 42 years, and I’ve never seen it as tough. Speaking to the nursing staff this morning and on Thursday, I found it heartbreaking listening to their stories, and the fear that they have for the unsafe staffing levels that they are forced to work in within the NHS.

"That’s not just taking a toll on those patients, but really taking a toll on nurses...

Nursing union chief says pay discussions must be on the table

"And then they go home in absolute fear of not being able to make ends meet, and pay their bills.

"Some of them are absolutely dreading Christmas because they cannot do the things that they would want to be doing for their young families at Christmas [and] pay their utility bills.

"Indeed, some members have told me over this last week that they are fearful that they’re going to lose their own house and they’re not going to be able to pay their rent come the New Year - and I think that’s a serious indictment on any government that believes that that’s the right thing to do on behalf of the profession, and keep them out in the cold and pay them the lowest possible wage that they can get away with.

"It’s just not right," Ms Cullen said, "and there’s no other way of describing it."

The ambulance strike comes after the nurses' strike on Thursday
The ambulance strike comes after the nurses' strike on Thursday. Picture: Getty

Health minister Will Quince told LBC on Tuesday that he was still open to talks with the RCN, amid fears nursing strikes could stretch on for months.

But Ms Cullen said that the last discussions she had with the government were more than a week ago - and that they had not been able to discuss pay. Nurses' wages are set by an independent pay review body.

Asked about the health minister saying his door is always open for talks, Ms Cullen said: “Look, that line now is extremely tired. I have gone twice now through their open door. And each time I go through the door, they make it very clear to me that we can talk about anything that you wish to talk about but we most certainly will not be talking about pay.

Striking nurses are pictured outside St Thomas's Hospital in London
Striking nurses are pictured outside St Thomas's Hospital in London. Picture: Alamy

"And indeed the last time that I’ve spoken to any of the government or any of the prime minister’s representatives is now over a week.

Read more: Soldiers driving ambulances 'can't run red lights because it would break the law' during strikes, minister claims

"What sort of message is that to send to nursing staff on the eve of Christmas, about how this government actually values their contribution?"

Thousands of nurses are staging a second walkout
Thousands of nurses are staging a second walkout. Picture: Alamy

The nurses' strike comes ahead of industrial action by ambulance workers on Wednesday, as the NHS enters the vital December period in a state of crisis.

Health secretary Steve Barclay was due to meet speak to unions on Tuesday, ahead of the planned action by ambulance workers, which include paramedics, control room staff and technicians, called by the RMT, GMB and Unite unions.

GMB said representatives only got 30 minutes with Mr Barclay and no breakthrough was reached.

NHS bosses said patients suffering from heart attacks, strokes or broken bones might need to take themselves to hospital.

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Hospital and ambulance services across the East Midlands, the North East, the North West and Wales have declared critical incidents.

"The best we can hope for is that everyone stays indoors, no one falls over, no one gets ill and no one has a car crash," said an NHS ambulance boss.

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