An experienced nurse has passionately spoken about the depressing reality of living and working on a capped wage in London to a packed Scrap the Cap rally.
Hundreds of nurses from across the country gathered in Parliament Square, central London to protest the 1% pay freeze for public sector workers which has been in place for the last seven years and effectively represents a pay cut once inflation is factored in.
Paediatric nurse Amena Ahmed, a member of the Royal College of Nursing who organised the rally, was one of the speakers on board the protest bus.
She told the crowd: “At the moment I live with my four children and husband in a one bedroom flat in south east London because it’s too expensive to afford proper rent in London.
“I’ve had to make choices whether I commute into London or live in the circumstances that I am at the moment.”
I’ve chosen to live in cramped conditions. And I don’t think as a professional that should be right."
Ahmed, who has been a nurse for nine years, added: “I’m angry and I’m frustrated due to the low pay and high rent in London and like many nurses I feel forced out of London and to leave the profession that I love altogether.
“After working long hours in very difficult circumstances it’s not right that I should have to worry about where I’m going to sleep to go back to work and to work for another 12 hour shift.”
Other speakers included celebrity comedians and activists Sir Tony Robinson and Rob Delaney.
Robinson spoke passionately about the care his late parents, who both had dementia, received from NHS nurses who “held my family together over that long, dark time”.
He said: “You guys are the lifeblood of the NHS. You are the heart of our nation when it’s suffering, when we are confronted with our darkest fears, like my family was, when we’re confronted by pain and disease and madness and death and loss.
“It’s you who care for us. It’s you who use your skills and experience to support us and let us lean on you.
“And yet you, you are the people who the state has consistently slapped in the face for the last five years.”
Nurses also reacted with anger and astonishment to Prime Minister Theresa May’s response to Jeremy Corbyn demanding a pay rise for workers, telling Prime Minister's Questions - which took place at the same time as the rally - that the Labour leader always wants money for “this, that and the other.”
Many nurses echoed the sentiments of the speakers that they feared for the future of the NHS.
James Watson, a 33-year-old psychiatric nurse from Norfolk, told HuffPost UK that the pay freeze has made him have to think about whether he can actually afford to be a nurse forever.
He added: “It’s also made me think about all the people that won’t be nurses because they’ve gone on to do other things because they can’t afford to be nurses and I think that’s a horrendous thing to have to happen.”
One young paediatric nurse, who wished to only be identified as Lauren, revealed to HuffPost UK that she was in the process of searching for a new career after being unable to afford to carry on as a nurse.
She said: “I can’t afford rent, I can’t afford to get a house, I’m really struggling.
“Even in the short time I’ve been a nurse, there’s no training available, you have to fight to get on any course, the promotions aren’t there. It’s just ridiculous.”
She warned that the NHS will “crumble” in the next few years if no new nurses come into the profession from Britain or the EU while many existing ones continue to leave.
Tony O’Sullivan, a retired children’s doctor and co-chair of Keep Our NHS Public, said the Government should “hang their head in shame” for underfunding the NHS and its workers, and described the situation that many nurses are having to use food banks as a “total disgrace.”
Just a few days ago, the Prime Minister’s spokeswoman said that Theresa May and the Government “recognise the sacrifice” that nurses, teachers and others had made while the 1% cap had been imposed. Downing Street also refused to deny the report that nurses would be first in line for pay rises from next April.