Making it Pay

Jeremy Davies, 55, has been a Mental Health Nurse for almost 33 years. In this feature he discusses his work, pay challenges facing NHS nurses and his hopes for the RCN's Fair Pay for Nursing Campaign.

What attracted you to a career in nursing?

Back in the 1980s I was one of the army of unemployed people receiving £22 supplementary benefit per week from the government. I was going nowhere fast. 

My mother was a general nurse and nagged me into applying for nursing jobs. She kept trying to find me a job and I kept trying to get into work. After two unsuccessful interviews for general nurse training, my third was in 1987 at the West Cheshire Hospital in Chester. I’ve been in continuous employment since then and now work at The Wrexham Maelor Hospital, where I'm proud to be part of a hard-working team.

Tell us about your work as a mental health nurse

Today I specialise in looking after people over the age of 65 with mental health conditions. 

That includes functional illnesses like depression, anxiety states, psychoses, and those with dementia, delirium and other related conditions. Because we’re working with people over 65, we also work with physical comorbidities. As well as managing their mental health you work with physical health problems they have due to their age. We’re managing pain, diabetes, and recently even cancer care and palliative care. 

Earlier in 2020 we lurched into being a COVID-19 assessment triage facility. Our team has offered services ranging from care for those who are socially phobic and frightened of leaving their houses, to end of life care.

It’s fascinating work. We care for people with life experiences of the kind we will never experience ourselves. You get to be part of their journey and visit their world for a while.

How much was your last pay rise in real terms?  What is your current Band as a nurse?

I’m at the top of Band 5, meaning I take home around £30,000 per year. The question about my last pay rise is more difficult to answer. 

Nearly three years ago a pay deal was agreed by 12 of the 13 unions to secure a three per cent pay rise over three years: one per cent per year. Over the last 10 years, because the cost of living has risen so much and our pay hasn’t, this pay ‘rise’ equates to a real-terms pay cut. Politicians present this as a pay ‘rise’ but it is a sub inflation rise and effectively no rise at all. 

Nurses are wondering if it’s worth the effort, trauma and stress, when they could earn roughly the same amount of money working in a supermarket. 

Have you had to make financial sacrifices to your lifestyle because of your nursing career?

This job has an enormous financial impact on family life. I’ve been with my partner for two years and our first holiday together was last week, when we went to Cardiff under the current COVID-19 regulations for Wales. 

Even before this year we’d have to think twice about a family holiday with my partner’s children, or a night out at the cinema or theatre. Our big purchases like cars tend to be well-used or preowned. With Christmas approaching I have to think about dipping into my savings. 

We are solvent but we live on that fine line. Financial sacrifices certainly have to be made in this job. If I was in another job in another time I would have retired by now. 

Hopefully the RCN's Fair Pay for Nursing Campaign will be a success and make a real impact for all nurses.

What is your message to the UK government?

The number of UK nurses approaching retirement age is much larger than those under 30 years of age. There is a clear difference between the number of people leaving the profession and the number of people wanting to enter it. Statistics around burnout even among nursing students are shocking, and will have become worse over the last year. 

Moral injury is a relatively new phrase which has emerged from America. It describes how you can try your best and satisfy your own personal code of conduct. But because you exist in circumstances like ours, where the organisation has been underfunded and overwhelmed and sometimes mismanaged, you are guaranteed to struggle.

The work of nurses has a huge impact and an immense cost. In 2020 both the impact and the cost have been higher than ever. Our work is far more than just 'work'. It stares into us as much as we stare into it, leaving the deepest possible impression. 

Nurses are an endangered species. Our numbers are shrinking and we are not being looked after. My message to the government would be: please look after us now or you’ll miss us when we’re gone. Because you won’t get us back again. 

The RCN has launched a Fair Pay for Nursing Campaign and we have asked the UK government for a 12.5 per cent pay increase. Find out more and sign a petition telling the prime minister why you demand fair pay for nursing, here.
The RCN are encouraging members to join a week of free online webinars offering support and advice. More information here


Page last updated – 16/02/2021

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