The most senior nurse at the Newcastle Hospitals NHS Trust has joined a call for there to be a "swift resolution" to the NHS pay dispute.
Maurya Cushlow, the trust's executive chief nurse, has - along with colleagues at the Shelford Group, which brings together ten of England's largest teaching hospital trusts - signed a letter which says: "Our message is that – for the sake of our patients and our profession – industrial action needs swift resolution."
The letter was released on the eve of strike action from Royal College of Nurses nurses which is set to last for two days. Ambulance service staff who are part of the GMB union are also walking out on Monday.
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The letter highlights the "fundamental role" of nursing in the NHS and social care systems - and highlights that chief nurses like Ms Cushlow want to so see the dispute resolved. The letter explains that this is both due to the impact on patients and to the impact on nurses themselves and the profession as a whole.
Referring to the impact on patients, the letter says: "First and foremost, we want a resolution because of the impact on the patients and communities we serve. Industrial action means appointments cancelled, diagnostics delayed, operations postponed. The longer industrial action lasts, the greater the potential for positions to harden, waits for patients to grow, and risks of harm to accumulate."
But in explaining why the chief nurses were choosing to speak, the chief nurses continue: "We also want a resolution because we see the direct impact on the nurses we work with today, and those who we are developing for the future. While nursing remains a fulfilling profession, we hear from our nurses that many find their working conditions unsustainable.
"While recruitment numbers – particularly from international sources – have increased following the pandemic, nursing vacancies are close to 47,000 in England. Nearly 35,000 nurses left active service last year, a record number."
They said that resolving the industrial action will be the "first step" in resolving this recruitment crisis. Nurses are striking over a substantially below-inflation pay offer of around 3 to 4%. The ten chief nurses add: "Pay and reward is central to the dispute, and we recognise is a matter for negotiation between government and unions.
"As leaders of the nursing profession on the ground, we know that sufficient staffing levels to service increasing demand and complexity, well-structured and funded professional development opportunities, and affordable pathways through both undergraduate and postgraduate qualifications to registration will also be critical if nurses are to feel valued and supported."
Concluding, the letter says: "We want to add our voice as nursing professionals to calls for all parties to come together with urgency, and do everything in their power to bring about resolution."
On Monday strike action is taking place at the Newcastle Hospitals, Northumbria Healthcare, Gateshead Health and County Durham and Darlington NHS trusts. North East Ambulance Service staff are also taking part in walkouts during an unprecedented week of strike action.
The RCN nurses will also strike on Tuesday, with NHS physios walking out on Thursday and ambulance service personnel with union UNISON heading for picket lines on Friday.
On Sunday, before action began, Health Secretary Steve Barclay repeated his call for the unions to call off their action as he insisted the Government could not give in to above-inflation pay claims.
“The Governor of the Bank of England warned if we try to beat inflation with high pay rises, it will only get worse and people would not be better off. I have held constructive talks with the trade unions on pay and affordability and continue to urge them to call off the strikes."
However, union bosses including Unite's Sharon Graham have disputed this.
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