The following article, jointly authored by the Bishop of London and Pat Cullen, appeared in The Times Red Box on Monday May 22 2023
Nursing has come a long way since we both entered the profession for the first time in the 1980s. But the values that underpin it have remained constant: compassion, selflessness, dignity, and integrity.
Nurses will stop at nothing to look after their patients. The nursing profession is the beating heart of this country’s health and care system.
Ministers stood on their doorsteps during the pandemic clapping the heroic efforts of nurses. Now that seems like a distant memory.
Today, the government’s unnecessary and draconian anti-strikes bill is back in the House of Commons for MPs to consider amendments passed by the House of Lords. We are calling for MPs to back the “protect nurses” amendment that was passed in the House of Lords with cross-party support, including from the Conservative benches.
The timing of this is ironic, coming when the NHS has over 43,000 nursing vacancies in England alone and less than one in five nurses say they are able to provide the level of care they would like.
Ministers should care about patient safety every day, not just on strike days — and take immediate action to better support the nursing workforce which is overworked and understaffed day in, day out.
That’s why we have been proud to work together to press the government to think again by laying an amendment which would remove one of the most appalling elements of this bill. The amendment would stop employers being able to dismiss nurses for taking otherwise lawful strike action.
No nurse wants to go on strike. But the fact they have been pushed to do so in record numbers indicates the sheer scale of the crisis unfolding in our NHS. Patients are not dying because nurses are striking — nurses are striking because patients are dying.
Even senior NHS leaders have warned that the bill would do little to solve disputes the government faces with health unions, with the chief executive of NHS Providers recently telling the health and social care select committee that “additional legislation could make things more difficult, rather than improve the situation”.
Ministers must get a grip of the underlying issues facing the NHS that are impacting patient safety, 365 days a year, not just on strike days. Instead of finding these solutions, the government is exacerbating the crisis.
The threat of dismissal will not assist in solving disputes but aggravate tension and could even worsen the nursing workforce shortage.
Threatening striking health professionals with losing their jobs is endangering fundamental freedoms and silencing nurses who have been driven to picket lines to stand up for not just their profession, but for their patients.
If nurses cannot stand up for their patients and the future of our NHS — who will?
The Rt Revd and Rt Hon Dame Sarah Mullally DBE is Bishop of London, and Pat Cullen is general secretary and chief executive of the Royal College of Nursing
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