‘Expressing solidarity’: Campaigners gather outside Homerton Hospital in support of national nursing strikes

Protesters outside the hospital yesterday. Photograph: Diana Swingler

Health workers staged a protest outside Homerton Hospital yesterday in support of nurses across the country who were striking for better pay.

Royal College of Nursing (RCN) staff at the Hackney hospital narrowly missed the 50 per cent turnout required to join the action after taking a ballot – despite those who voted being overwhelmingly in favour.

Nurses are calling on the government to give them a 19 per cent pay rise. They say that below-inflation pay increases make it hard to attract and keep staff.

They went on strike at more than 51 hospital trusts in England and Wales yesterday, with a second day of action next Tuesday.

Nurses walked out at Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children, Guys and St Thomas, Imperial College Trust , the NHS North Central London Integrated Care Board and the Royal Marsden.

There was a 46 per cent turnout in the Homerton RCN ballot and 97 per cent of them voted for strike action.

Campaigners hold up placards in support opf striking nurses. Photograph: Diana Swingler

Supporters staged a rally outside the hospital to keep the campaign in the public eye.

They included campaigners from Homerton Unison and the Homerton Pay Campaign who spoke to patients and staff.

Hackney Keep Our NHS Public joined the protest and treasurer Nick Bailey said: “We all wanted to bring together people and campaigns to try to show a bit of solidarity.”

He added:  “There’s a huge shortfall in staffing, and part of that is pay.”

The hospital trust has a 12.5 per cent vacancy rate and it is “particularly severe” in the emergency department, where nursing vacancies have soared from three in October 2019 to 18 this autumn.

Mayor of Hackney Philip Glanville and Cllr Carole Williams at the protest. Photograph: Marion Macalpine

Cllr Carole Williams, Hackney Council’s cabinet member for employment, human resources and equalities, offered support to hospital staff.

She said: “All of us use and rely on the NHS, and the staff that keep us healthy and safe. We would like to express our solidarity and show our support for the nursing staff who are protesting or striking, as the RCN have made clear the action they are taking is unprecedented and a last resort.”

Last year, the council gave staff at the Homerton its highest accolade – the freedom of the borough – for “going above and beyond” during the pandemic.

Cllr Williams said: “The nurses were on the frontline during the pandemic and continue to work long hours in an increasingly stressful environment.

“Like many people, they are struggling with the cost-of-living crisis and need their wages to keep up with rising costs. We stand with the nurses and ask that their hard work and dedication be recognised.”

Pre-pandemic, staff reported feeling stretched and needing better support for their health and wellbeing.

In early 2020, the hospital launched its Our Homerton People plan to improve conditions.

A trust spokesman said: “Much work has been going on for the past two years in addressing staff concerns, improving their welfare and providing them with professional support.”

He said the trust works with unions to listen to staff, adding: “We recognise the strength of feeling amongst our staff here and across the country. We also recognise that some people may feel disappointed that they are not able to take part in action taking place in some other parts of the NHS.

“We have told our staff that we have heard their voice, we understand the issues that are being raised and we will continue to work closely and constructively with all of our unions and union members over the coming months.”