A "demoralised" nurse who worked in intensive care during the pandemic is calling for NHS staff to go on strike.

Matthew Tovey, who has since left hospital work behind due to stress, believes that industrial action is "the only option" for NHS staff who want to fight back against continued pay cuts and understaffing.

Voicing his "full support" for striking RMT railway workers, Mr Tovey urged all trade unions representing NHS staff to work together on making a similar stand for the health service.

"We need to do this, we need to show them that we're serious," he told The National this week.

"People are suffering - people are dying.

"A friend of mine just left a job working in A&E - she told me she'd seen patients dying in corridors.

"If we don't do anything about this we're putting patients at risk, and we're putting our registration at risk.

"There has to be a breaking point."

Now working in a south Wales GP practice, Mr Tovey says that working on an acute care ward at the height of the Covid pandemic and beyond, amid staff shortages that are still ongoing, damaged his mental and physical health.

"I left the hospital ultimately because I was unable to provide the care that people who need it," he said.

"With the staffing situation and things, it was just getting progressively worse.

"You're limited in what you can do - the basics were not being met.

"We weren't able to dress people properly, y'know, feed people while the food is still hot off the trolley - the little things that all add up and make a difference in the care.

"I was coming home feeling demoralised, overworked, underpaid - I wasn't sleeping, it affected my mental health.

"I had to leave, I wasn't managing."

Last week, the Welsh Government announced that NHS staff would receive a pay rise of at least 4 percent this year, with the pay of the lowest earners increasing by around 7.5 percent.

The different rates for different workers "complicates things" Mr Tovey says, dividing staff. 

The offer largely matches that made to English NHS workers by the UK Government, and falls short of the current rate of inflation - a measure of increases to everyday living costs - which stands at just over nine percent, and is expected to reach 11 percent by October.

The UK Government has refused to fully fund pay increases in England, meaning that it will expect budget cuts to be made elsewhere in the NHS.

This also means no extra funding support for Cardiff Bay - this, the Welsh Government has said, is why their own pay offer is not higher.

Both the Royal College of Nursing and UNISON Cymru, the largest NHS union in Wales, have announced they will hold ballots on industrial action in response.

"You'll have other essential services cut again - and every service in the NHS is essential," Mr Tovey, who for years has been actively campaigning for at least a 15 percent NHS pay rise across the UK, said of Westminster's decision.

The National Wales: Mr Tovey marches with fellow NHS staff for higher pay. (Picture: Matthew Tovey)Mr Tovey marches with fellow NHS staff for higher pay. (Picture: Matthew Tovey)

"How is one thing more important than the other? Where do you draw that line?

"Even then - the pay award itself is nowhere near inflation, so in reality, it's just another pay cut, and a decade of Tory cuts has already given us this recruitment and staff retention crisis - colleagues are leaving all the time."

A report by the Royal College of Nursing last year estimated that more than 1,700 nursing vacancies remained open in Wales, with “far more nurses leaving the NHS than can be matched by newly qualified nurses or internationally recruited nurses”.

This is thought to be in part down to stagnating pay. Years of public sector pay freezes, followed by below-inflation pay rises, are estimated to have lost NHS staff - from cleaners and porters to nurses and doctors - thousands per year, and as the cost-of-living crisis continues to bite, these losses will likely be felt more keenly than ever.

"All we're asking for is a restorative pay rise - we're asking for what's rightfully ours," Mr Tovey said.

"I don't lead an extravagent life - I'm paying my mortgage, my bills."

Previously, Mr Tovey has said that the Welsh Government has a tendency to "hide behind Westminster" on the issue of NHS pay, and this is something he still feels is a problem.

"I understand that it's about the funding, but it's been a constant battle with the [pay rise] campaign - you approach the Welsh Government, and they just blame Westminster."

He believes that the way forward now is through trade unions.

The National Wales: Around 40,000 railway workers have gone on strike across the border this summer. (Picture: PA Wire)Around 40,000 railway workers have gone on strike across the border this summer. (Picture: PA Wire)

He "fully supports" railway union RMT, which this summer has staged the industry's biggest strikes in decades, and says that comparisons between the pay of nurses and train engineers "just encourages us to squabble between ourselves."

Mr Tovey wants to see healthcare unions - such as UNISON, the Royal College of Nursing, Unite and GMB - work as one towards industrial action across the whole health service.

"The only option now is to build to a strike, otherwise we just won't be taken seriously.

"I would urge the unions to coordinate their ballot dates as much as possible, distribute information [about the pay campaign] jointly, in every workplace.


"It needs to be collaborative - we're all fighting for the same thing, but in my experience it can be very confusing for people, with all the different ballots.

"It should be one ballot on the same day, and everyone should be working collectively, joining forces.

"It's now or never - especially with postal workers, the RMT striking, the barristers - there's all sorts going on.

"There's renewed energy, people are angry."

On concerns an NHS strike could endanger patients, the nurse said: "People will say that people are putting patients at risk, but I think we're already putting patients at risk.

"I haven't been able to give the care that I needed to give - I felt like I was breaching my code of conduct every day going to work.

"I don't think some people realise the pressure on every nurse and every other person going in for their shift.

"I was waking up at three in the morning, worrying I hadn't done everything I was supposed to do.

"There's a lot of mental health struggles amongst nurses - wellbeing is poor, and that's why people are leaving in droves."

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