Around 3,000 nurses, student nurses, health care support workers and members of the public took part in the 90-minute rally in Parliament Square, opposite the Houses of Parliament.
The rally was organised as part of the RCN’s Scrap the Cap campaign, which calls on the Government to remove the 1% cap on NHS pay.
The crowd heard from a variety of speakers, including actor and campaigner Sir Tony Robinson, comedian Rob Delaney and RCN members and staff.
In a passionate speech Sir Tony thanked NHS staff for looking after his parents, who both had dementia, and singled out nursing staff in particular.
“You are the lifeblood of the NHS,” he said. “You are the heart of our nation when it’s suffering. When we’re confronted by pain, disease and death it’s you who care for us.”
He went on to demand an immediate end to the cap, calling years of pay restraint a slap in the face for staff.
RCN members travelled from all over the UK to make their opposition to the pay cap known.
Teifion Woodward, a staff nurse from Caerphilly in south Wales, said he had made the journey to London today because the cap was “blatantly not fair”.
“We need to work extra bank and agency shifts just to earn a decent wage. We’re all feeling the pinch because of the pay cap but it’s wonderful to see such solidarity. We all want to stand together.”
Closing the rally, RCN President Cecilia Anim told the crowd they had sent a message to the Government it couldn’t ignore.
“Today we have told them loud and clear: we will not give up. Let’s show the Government our voice is getting stronger and we’re not going to go away. Nursing matters. We matter.”
To coincide with the rally, an event was held in Westminster for MPs to meet RCN members and understand the effects of ongoing pay restraint.
Maria Caulfield, a Conservative MP and nurse, said: “This has reached a crucial point. Nurses have to be a priority if we’re serious about retaining our experienced staff and improving services in the NHS. Staff are our number one asset.”
Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell added: “The pay cap is penalising people. This is about recruitment, retention and morale. If you’re not paying people properly, you’re not respecting them.”