A response to the RCN and RCM strike ballots
Propping the staff room door open with her foot, Maria leans out into the corridor and shouts, ‘Bex! You coming for lunch soon?’.
When I finally pull myself away it’s gone 4 pm. ‘I did make you a cup of tea’ Maria gestures to the cup nearest me, ‘it might be cold now. Sorry.’
‘Oh, I’ll take it how it comes, thanks friend. I think it’s my first drink of the day. Don’t tell bed five, I keep nagging him to drink but I’m doing worse than he is!’
‘It’s better than yesterday, we didn’t stop at all.’
‘Sure, but can this really count as ‘lunch’? I say snaffling a stale doughnut from the staff room table. ‘My hubbie will be getting the kids’ tea on in an hour!’
‘I’m so jealous of my friends who get a lunch hour and can pop out of the office. Meet someone in a café. Or a park. We can’t even see the sky.’
‘I’d settle for drinking a cuppa uninterrupted’, I say, pulling myself up reluctantly to answer a patient’s buzzer.
As I return, she asks, ‘What would you do if you weren’t a nurse?’
‘I’d be a florist.’ No question. ‘Being surrounded by beautiful flowers all day. What could be stressful about shrubs?’
‘Bet it smells better than this place as well’, she laughs. ‘Actually, I saw that the Waitrose on the corner is hiring. I’m sure the night shift pay can’t be that different. Plus, they get a staff discount. What do my kids get from me working here? An overtired, snappy Mum on my days off.’
‘I’ve read that nurses are having to use food banks to feed their families.’
‘I’m having to pick up extra shifts as agency to pay for the summer. I don’t know what I’m going to do if petrol prices go up any further. I might have to start sleeping on the day ward in-between shifts like we did when we had all that heavy snow the other year.’
‘The problem is I couldn’t do anything else. I love this job. I can’t walk away.’
This is us at our best, fantasising about what we’d do if we didn’t nurse. Laughing. Joking. Making the best of it as we always have. At our worst, we cry in our cars on the way to work, dreading the day ahead, having seen on the work WhatsApp that we’re short-staffed and haven’t found any help yet. We know we won’t have time to do our jobs the way we want, that we will run pillar to post, sick to our stomachs and with pulses racing. Stress weighs on our shoulders like a heavy woollen cape from the nursing uniforms in the sixties (although this isn’t so easily whipped off and hung up on the coat hook when we get home!).
The RCN (Royal College of Nursing) says our nursing workforce is at a crisis point. Unfair pay for staff ultimately puts patients at risk, and as our pay continues to fall behind inflation, this significantly contributes to our staffing crisis. A postal ballot opened up today (6 October 2022) for four weeks for all RCN members to vote either for or against industrial action, namely a strike. Unsurprisingly, the RCM (Royal College of Midwifery) will be announcing their ballot to strike in the coming weeks, too, as over half of midwives surveyed said they were considering leaving the NHS because understaffing left them fearing they couldn’t look after women safely.
As Christian nurses and midwives, I would strongly urge our members to think carefully about what their involvement should be in these ballots. Go to the RCN and RCM websites, read about how negotiations have gone until now, and what measures are put in place to ensure patient safety during a walkout. Ask God for wisdom on what you should do. Talk to other Christians about it. Ultimately, it’s a conscience issue. Christians will vary in their views on whether to strike or not. However, I would suggest that non-involvement isn’t an option. At the very least, we should hear these calls to strike as a call to pray. Our workforce is on its knees, and it’s time for us to be as well. On our knees in prayer. Humbling ourselves before God, calling on him to have mercy on a nation and make a difference.
Lead us, Lord; to engage our thinking; to engage our hearts; to engage well with this strike.
Sometimes it can be overwhelming to pray. Where do we start? Well, I would encourage you to try one or all of these prayer actions in the four weeks that the ballot is open. You might even consider doing one a week and asking one of your CMF local groups or another Christian nurse or midwife to join you.
Get talking. Ask your colleagues what they know about the strike and how they feel about it. How are they coping financially? Ask God to help you be sensitive to him and to them. Offer to pray for them if appropriate, either in person or in your own time.
On a rest day, consider fasting and praying. Remember, fasting is not about going on a hunger strike in order to manipulate God into answering our prayers. God doesn’t need his arm twisting. But he loves us to submit ourselves, body and soul, before him. If you struggle with food, think about a social media fast. If you’re out of practice, do a ‘shift’ fast. Do not eat until 4 pm, as if you were having a late lunch break at work.
The Old Testament prophets showed us how to embody our prayers. They often demonstrated what they were saying and involved their whole selves, not just their words. These last two actions are prophetic prayer actions
When you do your weekly food shop, buy extra non-perishable goods, and put them in the food bank bins next to the checkout. Pray for nurses and midwives who need to use food banks to feed themselves and their families.
The RCN reports that nurses are sleeping in their cars in-between shifts because they can’t afford the petrol to go to and from work. It’s heartbreaking. Even as I write this, I’m in disbelief. How has it come to this? You could choose a night to sleep in your own car on your driveway and pray for those that need to do so regularly out of necessity. Only do so if it doesn’t put your own safety at risk.
Neither the RCN or RCM take the decision to strike lightly. These are historic moments in both professions’ histories as hundreds of thousands of nurses and midwives consider how they want to act. What a privilege to be a nurse or midwife at a time like this! Don’t let it pass you by. These are our people. People we work alongside. And they are crying out to our government for change. Let your voice be heard with theirs. You might consider doing this by voting positively to strike, or you may choose another course of action. But however you decide to vote, please join me in raising our voices heavenward. For ’the righteous cry out, and the Lord hears them; delivers them from all their troubles. The Lord is close to the broken-hearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit’. (Psalm 34:17-18)