69 years ago, on this day in 1948, the NHS, our national treasure of which I am so proud, was born. Founded on the principle of free healthcare for all, regardless of wealth.
I have been a nurse in the NHS for 35 years, and in that time I have worked thousands of shifts, treated countless patients and seen a lot of changes to our health service. As a nurse at Oxford University Hospital's Accident and Emergency Department, my job is often stressful, but I love what I do. The patients I have treated in the many years since becoming a nurse inspire and humble me. Every day I witness the strength of those living with cancer or facing major surgery, and do everything I can to support and treat them through their time in hospital. Nurses are specialists who run clinics, treat, admit and discharge. We are consultants, professors and educators, innovators, researchers and managers.
The NHS has been a constant in my life, as I am sure it is in the lives of everyone in Britain. It is a safety net, always there if we need it; a guarantee that if the worst happens - if we or a family member falls ill - we will be treated without the worry of facing huge bills or bankruptcy. As a child with asthma, I was in and out of hospital and doctor's surgeries. My children were born in the NHS, and as my parents age, and become more frail, the support we get from our health service is vital.
But it feels like our health service is on the edge of a precipice. Research out this week has revealed that more midwives and nurses are quitting the profession than joining for the first time on record, with the number leaving having risen by half in four years. The crisis of recruitment and retention of nurses is serious and directly affects patient care, as already overstretched staff just can't give our patients the care and attention we want to give, or the care and attention they deserve.
Figures from the Health Foundation's Freedom of Information request have shown there is a shortage of 40,000 nurses and 3,500 midwives in England alone. There is no doubt that the public sector pay cap, workplace pressures and the scrapping of the NHS University Bursary have created the crisis threatening our health service, which worsens with each day that passes.
The public sector pay cap has been the subject of a lot of debate over the past few days, with Conservative ministers such as Boris Johnson, Michael Gove, and even Jeremy Hunt joining calls for it to be scrapped, despite all of them voting down Labour's amendment to the Queen's Speech, which would have done just that. Whatever their motivations, whether it is genuine concern at the extreme difficulties public sector workers are facing, or just a political ploy to attack a weakened Theresa May, the cap on our wages needs to end. It is an attack on the staff that work in our health service, my colleagues and I, who love what we do, and it has forced many to resort to working additional shifts, visiting food banks, or taking out hardship loans just to get by.
Where I live in Oxfordshire, the cost of living has skyrocketed, and it was recently declared the least affordable place to live in the UK. At the same time, my pay has stagnated for the past seven years. I am a single parent of three, and with housing costs taking up sixty percent of my income, just getting by is a struggle. My daughter, also an NHS worker, and her partner have lived with me for the past two years, saving up for a deposit to buy their own home. Of course, I don't do what I do for the money, but after spending two 12 hour shifts in a row treating patients in corridors due to cuts in hospital bed numbers, not having enough money to go to the cinema, or take my children out, shows the disdain the government has for the work we do, and the misplaced priorities of a government that can give tax breaks for the super-rich, while offering nothing to protect our world-class public services.
The government's deliberate defunding of the NHS is running down our health service, and it is crushing the morale of its staff in the process. Things need to change and they need to change quickly.
The NHS has always been staffed by immigrants, and we must never forget those that came from the Commonwealth in the 50s and 60s, and the Phillipines and Europe since the Millennium. Since Brexit there has been a 96% drop in nursing applications from EU countries.
So today, on the 69th birthday of the NHS I make a desperate appeal to this Government, on behalf of our treasured health service and its patients, that they reverse the cuts planned for the NHS, and pay NHS staff who dedicate their lives to caring for its patients a salary we deserve.
Our NHS is built on the values of care and compassion, I urge the Government to remember that.