Phil Weinand is training to be a nurse, but he’s also a Tesco worker.
Why is a nurse working at Tesco? Because he gets £3.46 an hour.
Lots of students have to work, but Phil is already part of the NHS staff, involved in crucial healthcare at King George Hospital in Ilford, east London for 37.5 hours a week during half the year.
The other half of the year he studies at South Bank university.
“I was recently working in an accident and emergency department from 7am to 3pm with just a 15 minute break,” Phil told Socialist Worker.
“Then I’m at Tesco for 20 or 30 hours a week. I’m on an excellent course, but I fear what the job does to my chances of finishing it.
“Most of my friends work, some for 40 hours a week.”
Sally Petersen, a student nurse from Worcester, told Socialist Worker, “I love nursing and I want to do a job which is useful. I knew it would be hard work and I knew I wouldn’t end up with the lifestyle of a City banker.
“Now I’m terrified I might have to give up because of the debts and the low pay. I work in a bar four nights a week from 7pm to 1am, but I still find it very hard to make ends meet, and my studies are suffering.
“Why doesn’t the government invest properly in training, recognise we’re doing crucial work in the NHS, and pay us a wage – at least for the time we spend working in hospital?
“Because I’m outside London I only get £2.85 an hour for my time in hospital.”
For the first time since they started a survey of nurses in 2003, the Unison union found some students with debts of £20,000 or more. And debts of more than £10,000 are becoming increasingly common.
The combination of long hours, studies and mounting debts means almost half of health students have considered giving up their training.
Yet even worse is coming.
A draft of the NHS pay and workforce strategy for 2008-11, revealed last week by the Health Service Journal, calls for regional pay to drive down nurses’ wages.
The document, the final version of which will feed into Gordon Brown’s comprehensive spending review this summer, reveals that it expects a shortage of 14,000 nurses and 3,200 more hospital consultants “than the NHS can afford”.
It also predicts a shortage of 1,200 GPs, a shortage of 1,100 junior and staff grade doctors, and 16,200 “too many” allied health professionals, healthcare scientists and technicians.
There are “too many” staff because services are contracting or closing. Yet the document’s solution is to savage NHS staff and services further.
Ideas include “managing down” the supply of allied health professionals – jobs like physiotherapists, healthcare scientists and technicians. It also wants to encourage more fixed term appointments and temporary staff to cope with fluctuations in demand.
Other options are a three year pay deal – starting with an award of inflation or lower in 2008/9, the use of local job markets to reduce nurses’ pay and the use of unemployment to “create downward pressure on wages”.
But there is also official fear of resistance.
A separate document reveals the government’s fears of industrial action if NHS staff are offered a pay award of 2 percent or below for 2007-8.
The document, written by the department of health’s head of pay and pensions, came a month before the government recommended an increase of 1.5 percent.
On Saturday 3 March the TUC and the health unions are organising a national day of protest. If it focuses the anger across Britain against health cuts then it can destroy the new plans to attack our NHS, and lay the basis to end scandals like nurses on £2.85 an hour.
Build protests on 3 March
The potential for the NHS protests on 3 March is shown by the scale of the revolt in Sussex.
This week Brighton’s Argus newspaper revealed that 360,000 people have signed petitions protesting at plans to downsize or close some of the county’s hospitals.
In Chichester over 130,000 people signed protest petitions. In Worthing and Adur the signatures total 100,000 – equivalent to the entire population of Worthing.
In Hastings the figure is more than 42,000 and in Haywards Heath it is more than 50,000.
Last year, tens of thousands of people attended demonstrations across the county.
Crawley campaigners are traveling to London in March to present their petition.
In many parts of Britain there is the same concern and bitterness about NHS cuts. Each English TUC region is now discussing plans for protest in their area.
They must match the task, not give the government an easy ride.