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Fiona Kyle
October 3, 2022

Nurses forced to choose between eating at work and feeding children

A survey of senior figures in the NHS has revealed that some nurses are struggling so much financially that they are not able to eat at work so that they can buy food and clothes for their children.

The lack of money caused by the cost of living crisis is also making some NHS staff call in sick in the days running up to pay day because they cannot afford the travel costs to get into work.

The survey also found that, among other things, the cost of living crisis was having the following consequences on some NHS staff:

  • They have stopped paying into their NHS pension to free up cash
  • They are unable to fill up their cars because of fuel prices
  • Their mental health is being impacted because of the stress of having to pay bills

NHS Providers’ director of policy and strategy Miriam Deakin, told The Guardian: “There are heart-rending stories of nurses choosing between eating during the day and being able to buy a school uniform for their children at home.

“Increasing numbers of nurses and other staff, particularly in the lower pay bands, are finding they are unable to afford to work in the NHS.”

Food banks

Food banks for staff is not new for the NHS, more than a quarter of the NHS trusts have already found it necessary to run food banks for their staff. However, the cost of living crisis has exacerbated the situation meaning another 19% of trusts plan to open one to provide staff with the essentials that they are unable to afford without help.

The trusts are also trying to help staff through a variety of schemes including offering hardship grants, paying for children’s school uniform and providing low-cost food in their restaurants.

Leaving the NHS

The ultimate impact is that some low-paid health staff, such as healthcare assistants, are leaving the NHS for better paid jobs in pubs and shops and this is having a knock-on effect on patient care.

Two-thirds of NHS trusts said that staff leaving for more money elsewhere was having a “significant or severe impact”and making existing recruitment and retention challenges even more difficult.

Sara Gorton, head of health at the union Unison said: “It’s like the UK has gone back to Victorian times, when workers were so poor they couldn’t afford to feed their families.”

“This is a shocking state of affairs. Ministers should be ashamed that things have come to this.” 

Potential strike

In June, NHS staff were offered a 3% pay rise, which equates to a pay cut in real terms because inflation is around 10%. They are preparing to go on strike this winter to show their anger at this offer. A representative of one of the trusts told The Guardian that walkouts by workers could make it difficult for normal services to be maintained at what is traditionally the busiest time of year for the NHS.

A government spokesperson said: “We know NHS staff are struggling with cost of living pressures, and we have given over 1 million NHS staff a pay rise of at least £1,400 in line with the recommendations of the independent pay review body.

“The government has also taken action to save a typical household an average of £1,000 a year on energy bills through a new ‘energy price guarantee’ – protecting them from soaring energy costs.”

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