Two completely separate events, in the last ten days, have brought to the very front of our consciousness two debates. Both in the way we live our lives and mount political pressure. I’m talking about the debates on women and safety; equality and racism.
These themes are so relevant to the work we all do in the RCN and what nursing as a profession is all about. At its heart, our profession is a progressive one – it drives for greater equality in health and life chances. It’s a tapestry of all nationalities and cultures.
Equality – or inequality – takes many forms. Discrimination based on your race. Your age. Gender. Or sexual orientation. Disability. As professionals and trade unionists we’re driven by the thought of truly eradicating that.
Last Monday, many of you will have marked International Women’s Day and it focuses the mind each year on some of the battles we have yet to win. By the end of the week, we had incredibly sad news and we were reliving debates about women’s safety that should have been won years ago.
Much of the job of nursing is done in quite isolated settings and you will know I spent years as a health visitor in inner city areas. That feeling of unease and uncertainty sometimes when you’re going to a stranger’s home on your own never ever leaves you. Colleagues will have all felt it on occasions too. When that door locks behind you and there’s not a female there, you need fancy footwork to get out. Nobody teaches you that.
Fortunately, our Reps have won protection for many of our members in their workplaces and fought hard for legislation to prosecute those who assault our colleagues. And we have members who work with people – yes, most often women - in violent relationships and we give expert advice to nursing staff on domestic violence. You can find resources to help, no matter what area of practice, with spotting the signs and raising awareness of services to support individuals in these circumstances.
I’ve previously talked about our gender report we released last year. There is an idea that nursing being a vocation allows our wages to be suppressed and our working conditions to be downgraded. One that undermines our professional identity.
I believe that the last 12 months the work of nursing staff has smashed every old stereotype about nursing. You have set out the true picture of the realities and complexities of modern nursing. And the public has seen that. After the government revealed it’s hand with a 1% pay proposal in the next NHS pay award, nursing staff were hurt and bitterly disappointed. And the public were outraged. The government knows it has badly misjudged this one. Their announcement has galvanized support for our campaign.
So, what are we doing next?
The process for setting the next NHS pay award is far from over and we have a number of critical weeks to keep influencing and campaigning on behalf of our members. Some of you will know of the Pay Review Body. The PRB is the process used by governments to set pay in the NHS and other parts of the public sector. Independent experts take evidence from the government, the unions and the NHS employers and make recommendations on pay.
We sent in our report in January that you can read. We explained what a 12.5 per cent pay rise would mean for our people, the economy where you live, the services you work in and the patients you care for. This week we are giving verbal evidence to the PRB too, from a mix of RCN staff and members. But, at the end of the PRB process, it’s the politicians who decide.
I’m appealing directly to Boris Johnson today. Think back 12 months. When you told the world you owed your life to the care of nursing staff. When you acknowledged that the people who looked after you were putting themselves in harm’s way.
You had your eyes opened to the difference 21st century nursing makes. You told the country it was two nurses who stood guard for 48 hours and made life saving interventions. How would you feel if you saw them now? They stood by you, now stand by them.
When the final announcement is made in summer, we have committed to asking every member what they think of it. And what they are prepared to do next if the government doesn’t deliver what we think is fair pay.
The morning after the government proposed the 1% pay award, your Council released a statement that it was setting aside £35 million as a strike fund should RCN members chose to follow that route later in the year. I will simply say that if you the members support that action then, like in Northern Ireland, you will have my full support and the hard work of my full team.
In a very difficult year, RCN members and staff have worked together to make progress on key areas important to so many. Only a few weeks ago, we released a document setting out what the RCN expects to see in place as health and care services return to some kind of normality. For many of you, that will feel like a long way off. But we set out the stall early so decisionmakers and ministers know exactly where we stand.
The last 12 months have been like no other and they leave a great number of causes we must fight hard to win. We live in a system that still creates privilege and power. Too often it prioritises the needs of white over black; male over female; rich over poor.
Modern nursing is a product of the biggest equality project on earth. Together, we will keep the fight for equality – both for our patients and ourselves.