A DORSET nurse with more than 25 years’ experience said it was “sad to see” the current state of the NHS.

Royal College of Nursing (RCN) member Lucy Walton said the service was “haemorrhaging" staff, adding that “enough was enough”.

This week the RCN announced that industrial action would take place across NHS trusts, including those in Dorset, following the first statutory national vote for strikes in the union's 106-year history.

It is protesting over a pay award earlier this year of £1,400 for most NHS workers, with the RCN calling for a rise of five per cent above the rate of inflation.

Ms Walton, RCN learning development representative, told the Daily Echo: “We are not asking for something that we shouldn’t be expecting.

“The majority of us are receiving less money than we did 10 years ago.

“It is about knowing what you have and what they have is a strong workforce who are committed and dedicated to delivering fantastic healthcare and what they need to do is recognise that and start reinvesting.

“It is all very well bringing international nurses across and they have been a godsend to us, however, it is more costly to bring in agency and private healthcare workers to cover our shortfall.

“Clearly we can’t afford to do that. If that money was invested better and they encouraged people to come and they retained those people, then we would have a better healthcare service and better healthcare for all at no extra cost – the amount being paid out would start to fall.

“It is about investment and knowing our worth.”

Ms Walton, who is a clinical practice educator at Dorset County Hospital having previously worked at Poole Hospital, said union members had done “a lot of soul searching to get to this point”.

“When we look back and reflect on the past decade and see that actually in real terms when we look at the cost of living, the energy prices and everything else that we are going through at the moment, we are being paid less than we were 10 years ago,” the 52-year-old said.

“However, we have been through a pandemic, we have kept the NHS going, everybody clapped for us, everybody appreciated us but there is no remuneration for that and ultimately that has led to a mass exodus, a haemorrhaging of staff from the NHS. It is astonishing.

“The largest section of the nursing workforce leaving at the moment are those aged 45 and under, so we have gone through the baby boomers who are all retired, retired earlier and people speak about gold-plated pensions, they do not exist anymore.

“The people that are leaving us are the people that we need to nurse us in the next 10 to 20 to 30 years and they are not being replaced.”

Ms Walton said the NHS was spending more than £6billion on agency staff.

“The mainstay of the NHS is run by solid nurses who commit to the nursing because they want to deliver the best patient care that they can,” she added.

“We are finding that those people are leaving and it is really sad because instrumental in that is the amount of money we are getting paid. It is not the only thing but that is the situation we are in.”

The experienced nurse, whose parents were both nurses, said job roles had been extended and roles had been rebranded several times but always to the detriment of the workforce.

She described the pandemic as the “icing on the cake”, with staff suffering burnout.

“There has been amazing support for each other and amazing support from the public but going forward I think enough is enough,” Ms Waltonsaid .

“When nurses are having to go to foodbanks to feed their families and it is something that is considered a vocational occupation, it is a solid occupation.

“When registered nurses are leaving to go and work in retail and hospitality there is something very wrong with the system because you cannot replace registered nurses with retail and hospitality staff because they are not trained professionals like we are.”

Ms Walton said there had been “amazing public support” since the strike action was announced.

“I have some stands about the ballot in the restaurant in the hospital and I had a couple of elderly patients who were very concerned about it,” she said. "They couldn’t quantify why they didn’t want us to strike, they were just very worried that there was going to be diminished level of care and I very politely explained to them that actually that is what they are receiving already.

“If we were fully staffed, if we could deliver the care and we were encouraging people not haemorrhaging people to join the NHS, to join nursing, their care would be immeasurably better.

“Through my career I have seen the slow erosion of our quality of care and I am a proud professional. I want everyone to receive the best level of care and that is not possible.”

The Daily Echo approached University Hospitals Dorset, Dorset HealthCare and Dorset County Hospital NHS trusts for comment, with similar if not identical responses provided.

A spokesperson for Dorset HealthCare said: “We are already putting in to place plans to ensure we provide safe care to our patients and service users on strike days and to minimise any impact on our services.

“We understand the importance of good pay and conditions for our staff and their families and we fully recognise and respect people’s individual choices on this particular matter.

“We will continue to work closely with our trades union colleagues as we understand more about the planned action.”