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Nurses consider unprecedented strike action as study finds healthcare workers choosing between food and fuel, and one in five using food banks

Nurses are this week voting on whether to hold a UK-wide strike over pay – with a new study by Florence revealing that two thirds of nurses, carers and healthcare workers are struggling financially and one in five are using food banks.  For the first time in 106 years, the RCN is recommending that members vote to support industrial action.

The survey by Florence, the healthcare platform, found:

  • Two thirds (63%) of nurses, carers and healthcare workers are having to choose between food and fuel this winter to combat rising energy bills
  • One in five (19%) have started using food banks since the cost of living crisis started, and a further third (30%) also know colleagues who have.
  • A staggering 94% of nurses and healthcare staff are calling for the government to match pay in-line with inflation, currently increasing at nearly its fastest rate in 40 years, driven largely by the rising cost of food and fossil fuels
  • Over a quarter (28%) of nurses and healthcare staff are already planning to leave the profession in search of better pay
  • 39% of nurses and carers say the rising cost of living is already having a significant impact on their mental health

  • Over half (51%) of nurses and healthcare staff have needed time off to recover from stress and burnout

Fiona Millington, Chief Nurse at Florence, explains: 

The government hailed nurses & healthcare workers during the pandemic but where is that support now? The proposed 5% pay increase doesn’t come close to what is needed by healthcare workers across the country. Nurses and carers are making genuine decisions, ‘Do I have something to eat that’s hot? Do I risk having to use gas to heat this up?’. The cost of living has risen at an alarming rate, but salaries are not increasing to match that cost of living.

“Nurses and carers, like every other profession, are finding themselves in a situation where it’s more difficult to make ends meet. It’s a really difficult situation but sadly it’s the reality we’re facing. A government implemented pay rise cannot come quickly enough.” 


Dr. Charles Armitage, Former NHS Doctor and CEO and founder of Florence, commented:

“It is completely inadmissible that frontline nurses and healthcare staff are choosing between food and fuel. The cost of living crisis is having an unforeseen impact on those on low income, and nobody shouldn’t have the right to basic necessities, whether food, fuel, housing or otherwise.  

“For too long, the UK’s under-funded, over-stretched system has pushed more NHS and social care professionals to leave than to stay; with ever-growing vacancies and Covid-19 adding to the pressure. 

“Staff shortages are the single biggest threat to global healthcare. High vacancy rates are fuelling long wait times, burnout, and ultimately driving the existing workforce out – all in search of less pressure and better pay. It’s unsustainable and we need an urgent, long-term solution. We need to see increased pay, greater efforts to bring more people into healthcare and enhanced training as a start. We need to look after our frontline healthcare workers, not drive them out.”


RCN Chief Executive, Pat Cullen said in a message to members:

“Governments have repeatedly neglected the NHS and the value of nursing. We can change this if together we say ‘enough is enough.  Record numbers are feeling no alternative but to quit, and patients pay a heavy price. We are doing this for them too.”


For many healthcare workers, the final straw was a recent cut to sick pay for those still struggling with long COVID.  A study by Unison found only 68% of those affected were able to return to work, and of those, many have only been able to work part time due to ongoing symptoms like exhaustion, brain fog, headaches and heart damage.  Sick pay for those affected was reduced in July.


A frontline nurse speaks 

A frontline nurse, who asked not to be named, said:

“Healthcare staff never asked to be clapped on a Thursday, we just asked for fair pay and access to the PPE that would have protected us – and ongoing support for those of us who got sick as we continued to do our jobs during the pandemic.

“Qualified nurses are skilled, degree-educated professionals in our own right and deserve to be paid as such, and we couldn’t do our job without the support of other, equally undervalued healthcare professionals. The ‘thank you’ for our service during the pandemic is a cut to sick pay for us and our affected colleagues – and let’s not forget the colleagues we lost. 

“We have nurses using food banks – but many more colleagues are simply leaving the NHS, creating a UK-wide skills shortage.   I would never even consider striking before but I won’t hesitate to vote yes this time.  Enough is enough.” 


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