Leading article

Nurses should get fair pay award

It has been said many times that this pandemic has underscored the things in life that are of greatest value - good health, the company of family and friends, secure employment, the education of our children.

The past year of lockdown and restrictions has also shown us that it has often been those with the most low-paid, demanding and high-risk jobs that have made the biggest contribution to society in a time of crisis.

The care home staff, the cleaners, the shopworkers, the delivery drivers and so many others have helped to get us through this emergency.

And of course, there are the healthcare staff, the nurses and doctors and other professionals who have worked long hours, through relentless pressure and repeated infection surges to treat every patient that comes to hospital needing care.

In the first lockdown, we stepped outside our homes every Thursday evening to clap for carers, a small gesture that demonstrated a measure of the public's gratitude for the efforts and sacrifice being made by health workers, even as they were struggling to get adequate supplies of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and large numbers were themselves falling ill and sadly dying.

These workers were rightly hailed as heroes and while the weekly applause has ended, the pandemic has continued, with staff stretched even further, exhausted and burnt out, with the Covid danger far from over.

Given the year the NHS has gone through and the crucial role played by dedicated healthcare staff, many people will fully understand the sense of anger sparked by the 1 per cent pay rise on offer to nurses.

Boris Johnson has defended the proposal, saying the government is giving workers 'as much as we can' and citing the tough times being experienced by the economy.

Everyone accepts that the financial picture is extremely difficult but there is also a recognition that large sums can be found for major projects.

There is also a view that the nurses deserve to be treated fairly after the service they have performed on behalf of the public, and this pay rise is not only unfair but an insult to their efforts.

We are now in the unfortunate position of nurses contemplating industrial action.

The RCN's Northern Ireland director, Pat Cullen, said the union would await the outcome of a pay review before considering its next steps in the north.

We must hope there is a rethink and a fair proposal put forward.

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Leading article