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Proposed 1% Pay Hike Shows U.K. Government Doesn't Value Us, Nurse Says

A MARTINEZ, HOST:

Once a week, the U.K. came to a standstill early on in the pandemic.

(CHEERING, APPLAUSE)

MARTINEZ: Much like here in the U.S., people would stand outside and applaud the doctors and nurses working for the National Health Service. Matt Tacey is a mental health nurse with the NHS. He says it's been a rough year.

MATT TACEY: The only word I can describe is hell. It's been absolutely awful the past year. We're very frustrated. We're angry. And we're upset about how the U.K. has dealt with the pandemic. Nurses and the NHS staff, absolutely exhausted. We're exhausted.

MARTINEZ: The Royal College of Nursing, the U.K.'s largest nursing union, is calling for a pay raise of 12.5%. But the British government is only proposing a 1% increase. The union says that increase amounts to less than $5 a week in take-home pay for an experienced nurse. And for Tacey, that's unacceptable.

When you heard about the 1% pay increase, what went through your mind? What did you think?

TACEY: I was very angry. I was disappointed. I was upset. But was I surprised? No. You know, the NHS for the last 10 years have experienced austerity from this government. The government time and time again have shown through their actions that they don't value us. A 1% pay rise, which, in real terms, is actually a pay cut because the inflation this year has gone up 1.7%. So we're losing out on pay yet again.

MARTINEZ: So you wouldn't really feel it then, right? I mean, it doesn't sound like 1% would mean anything to your daily, weekly or monthly finances.

TACEY: Absolutely not. No, no. And then the government wonder why we've got, you know, a staffing crisis in the National Health Service. They need to address it. And offering 1% is absolutely disgusting. It's criminal. And I cannot believe the sheer audacity from this government to think that that's acceptable. Mark my words, the NHS and its staff are not going to accept that. And we're going to fight. We're going to fight with this government until we get what we deserve. Patient safety is being affected by the actions of this government. And as nurses and as health care workers, we will not tolerate attacks on our patients.

MARTINEZ: Now, Matt, the government says that these are unprecedented financial times, that the economy has really suffered. So there's need to be financially prudent. What do you say to that?

TACEY: It's very inconsistent because billions of pounds have been wasted. We've got a track and trace system here that they've spent 35 billion pounds on this track and trace system, which does not work. More recently, there was a press room at Number 10 Downing Street. And they paid 2 million pounds to get that renovated. If you increase that pay, people are going to be applying for jobs to work within the NHS. But because it's so poorly paid, the pay is not worth the stress of working within the National Health Service.

MARTINEZ: So is there a chance, then, you think, that there are nurses that will leave the profession and never come back, because I'm wondering, what are they - going to be the consequences if this isn't resolved?

TACEY: Unfortunately, that's already started. There's already nurses leaving. You can go and work in a supermarket and get paid just as much as a nurse. But the stress and the responsibility of that is very little in a supermarket compared to looking after a very, very sick patient. If the government doesn't address this now, like giving us a restorative, meaningful pay rise, there's going to be no staff left in the National Health Service. And then what's going to happen? Well, who knows? But what they need to do now is address the staffing issue. And the perfect place to start would be increase the pay.

MARTINEZ: That's Matt Tacey. He's a mental health nurse with the NHS. Matt, thank you very much.

(SOUNDBITE OF MAMMAL HANDS' "BOREAL FOREST")

TACEY: Thank you very much for your time, guys. Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.