Frontline NHS workers, many of whom have been helping to fight the coronavirus pandemic, have protested to demand better wages.
Campaigners in central London, many wearing scrubs or other NHS uniforms, held banners which read “stop clapping, start paying,” “priceless yet penniless” and “640 healthcare workers dead, blood on their hands” alongside images of prime minister Boris Johnson.
Demonstrators began a march to Trafalgar Square after a two-minute silence in honour of 640 healthcare workers who have died during the pandemic.
The protest comes after nurses were excluded from the wage increase for around 900,000 public sector workers announced in July because they are in the final year of a three-year agreement. The pay increase does not apply to junior doctors after they agreed a four-year deal last year.
Alia Butt, 33, an NHS psychotherapist in Essex and chair of Nurses Staff Voices, said: “We have simply had enough.
“The money is there. They are simply just not providing it to NHS staff. It turns out that the only way to ensure the NHS is able to continue to function is by the sheer force of organising.”
She added: “The government clearly has not got a clue about what it is doing and that is very scary. Nurses saved the lives of the Prime Minister. What more do we need to do to get paid properly? It’s bizarre.”
Jordan Rivera, 43, an occupational therapist in Hackney, east London, said NHS workers are emotionally and physically tired, many are living paycheque to paycheque and the situation they have been left in is “outrageous”.
She said: “Working that hard when you are already exhausted from fighting the pandemic is an outrage.
“How can we be expected to work through a second wave when we are physically and emotionally exhausted and on top of that, we are worried about paying our bills?”
Protests calling for a 15% increase in pay for NHS workers were also held in Manchester, Sheffield, Brighton and Bournemouth.
Tania, a nursing sister who did not want to give her last name, said: “They (the government) are relying on our good nature and our moral compass to keep the NHS going despite treating us really poorly.
“We have had enough now and are saying pay us properly or we will take action.”
To cheers, demonstrators began chanting “Boris Johnson hear us shout, pay us properly or get out” as they marched through the streets of London.
Former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn sent his support to “all of our wonderful NHS workers”, saying: “NHS staff are absolutely brilliant but have suffered a pay freeze, under-funding and under-staffing.
“Yet when the coronavirus crisis comes along, they are all there working hours and hours more than they were paid to do – care workers doing exactly the same.
“Now is the time to pay them properly and secure jobs for the future in the NHS.”
Grassroots groups including NHS Workers Say No to Public Sector Pay Inequality, NHS Staff Voices, Keep Our NHS Public campaign, Nurses United UK and Unite Guy’s and St Thomas Hospital Branch have backed the protest.
Rachel Harrison, national officer for the GMB union, said: “Loyal and dedicated NHS workers have been let down in the three-year NHS pay deal – which GMB union opposed.
“Their pay, terms and conditions have been driven down for years.
“Many staff have worked throughout the coronavirus pandemic and now their efforts need to be recognised with a pay award that reflects their commitment and the real-terms losses they have suffered during a decade of austerity.”
Meanwhile, Unite said NHS workers should receive a pay rise of 15% or £3,000, whichever is greater.
The union said the claim would “restore the pay that NHS workers have lost in the decade of austerity since 2010”.
National officer for health Colenzo Jarrett-Thorpe said: “Hundreds of health and social care staff have lost their lives in the continuing battle against Covid-19 which has heightened the deep appreciation that the public has for the NHS and those who work in it.
“This public esteem for NHS workers should be reflected by the government which needs to respond by opening pay discussions, following our claim and those of our sister unions.”
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesman said: “We are grateful for the hard work and dedication of our frontline staff, particularly during the pandemic.
“NHS staff are currently benefiting from the final year of a three-year pay deal, agreed with trade unions, which has delivered year-on-year pay increases, such as increasing the starting salary for a newly qualified nurse by 12% by 2021.
“The independent NHS Pay Review Body makes recommendations to government on pay increases for NHS staff, including nurses, and we will consider their advice when we receive it, while continuing to listen to our valued staff and the trade unions to ensure everyone is rewarded fairly.”