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Sam Volpe

Striking Newcastle nurse tells of the 'anxiety' of walking out - but says action needed to protect patients in the long-term

A striking Northumbria Healthcare nurse laid bare the "emotional conflict" triggered by taking to the picket line.

Martin Black is a long-serving nurse working at the Northumbria Specialist Emergency Care Hospital in Cramlington. Speaking from the Royal College of Nursing's (RCN) picket line on the second consecutive day of strike action this week, he told ChronicleLive how his motivation was to safeguard the "long-term safety" of patients - but that didn't mean that walking out on strike was an easy choice.

Along with nursing colleagues around the region, Martin spoke of the agonising decision they had been forced to make. The strikes are taking place against a pay dispute between the RCN and the Government - with the union adamant that the Government's pay offer of a £1,400 boost for most nurses isn't enough.

Read more: Newcastle's chief nurse joins call for 'swift resolution' to pay dispute to protect 'patients, nurses and the profession'

The union's stance is that with pay having risen below-inflation for a number of years, many nurses are now paid 20% less than they were a decade ago. The RCN is demanding a pay rise of inflation plus 5% - but the Government's pay offer remains an uplift of £1,400 for the poorest paid, a substantially lower figure and one well below inflation.

Martin - a picket supervisor - added: "It's such an emotional conflict for us really. We want to be in the hospital providing care to our patients to the standard we expect every day. Not being able to do that is an unbelievable strain on us, so what else can we do about it?

Nurse Martin Black on a picket line in Cramlington, pictured alongside striking colleagues in Newcastle (Newcastle Chronicle)

"Removing our services is all that we can do. I know there are patients in there that would benefit from me being there. But we have to look at the long-term and how many more patients will benefit from a properly funded NHS. I'm away from the rest of my team, away from patients - and that does cause me anxiety. Of course I want to know what's going on. Just because I'm on a picket line doesn't mean I'm not a nurse. But we have to focus on the long-term value of taking action.

"I've been doing this for twenty years and I never thought I would be stood here. But I've never seen resources as tight as they are now."

His colleague Jacqueline Dwyer added: "It's just a shame they won't come to talk to Pat Cullen. Last night I watched Look North and across the area - across the country - every one of us is saying the same thing. They're saying the same things I've been saying for years.

"And it's been especially bad since the impact of the Covid which has seen everyone pick up extra shifts to cover for things like the extra sickness. Then all of a sudden there was the vaccination programme, and then you have the outpatient backlog. I know people working five-days a week then at the weekend and then back in to cover as they're are needed for extra clinics."

Jacqueline explained "everyone has stepped up" but that the strain was telling on staff. And Rob Coleby - a community nurse - continued: "There's not anyone who wants to be here. But we are just here to make a stand for what's right. We need better conditions for our patients and better conditions to work in for everyone doing the job.

"The support needs to turn into action, but it seems to be falling on deaf ears [in Government]. The pressures boil over into community care. It comes from A&E to the wards and then to the wards to the discharge teams and into the community."

Nurses walked out on Monday and Tuesday at four of the region's NHS trusts - with action also taking place at Newcastle Hospitals, Gateshead Health and County Durham and Darlington. At the RVI, one nurse Kathryn told ChronicleLive: "I'm on strike because I want safer staffing and to maintain patient safety. Rishi Sunak needs to get around the table and speak to the RCN about this. We can't go on feeling unsupported and undervalued."

During a visit to Kingston Hospital in London on Monday, Health Secretary Steve Barclay appeared to rule out new pay negotiations for 2022/23.

He said: "We have been discussing this coming year, from April, pay with the unions. We have this process through the pay review body; it’s an independent process and we’re keen to get the evidence so it reflects the pressure that the NHS has been under and the wider context in terms of inflation.

"I don’t think it’s right to go back to last year, to last April, retrospectively. We should be looking forward to the pay review body that is taking evidence now and working constructively with the trade unions."


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