By Trudie Pandolfo
On Tuesday, this week, NICE staff staged a one-day strike, the first time we have been on strike since the national pensions dispute in 2011.
What is NICE, you ask? The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence. We work to assess new drugs and technologies and advise the NHS on clinical and cost effectiveness.
We also write guidance for clinical staff on how to treat various medical conditions. Our work was particularly important during COVID, when we produced guidance very quickly to support our frontline colleagues.
I work in the public involvement programme at NICE and am also joint branch secretary for the UNISON branch.
A lot of people have asked me – why did we go on strike? Why were we stood out in the freezing cold all day, sacrificing even more pay? Well …
- we went on strike because we have had 13 years of real-terms pay cuts;
- we went on strike because up to 500 people a week are dying because the NHS cannot provide the level of care they need;
- we went on strike because there are over 100,00 vacancies in the NHS and pay cuts will only make that worse;
- we went on strike because our front line colleagues are traumatised every day by the level of care they are able to provide.
- we went on strike because frontline colleagues are leaving the NHS for better pay in supermarkets;
- we went on strike because we were standing up for patients and the public;
- we went on strike because we government need to hear and understand that enough is enough.
But most of all, we went on strike because the NHS will only last as long as there are folk with the faith to fight for it. We and our NHS colleagues have the faith and we will carry on doing all we can to protect it.
This was not a decision that any of us took lightly. Just like our NHS colleagues, many of us at NICE are struggling with the cost-of-living crisis.
And for many of the staff at NICE, this has been their first experience of union membership and also their first experience of going on strike.
Having spoken with members throughout the ballot period and since, they feel that this vote was about securing the very future of the NHS.
At NICE, we have a bird’s eye view of the whole system, as we work on clinical, social care and public health guidance.
This is why I think our branch had the highest ballot turnout in the country, at 67.3%. This unique perspective gives us the ability to see the problems right across the system, caused by years of chronic underfunding, increasing workloads and huge staff shortages.
For me, my rent has increased, as has my energy bill, so losing a day of pay was not an easy thing to choose to do.
But, it came down to a choice between losing a day’s pay or doing what I can to try and protect the NHS. I have a disability and have been a patient of the NHS over the years.
In the past, I have waited two years for treatment, and I have friends who have been quoted a wait of up to four years for similar treatment. This is just not sustainable and affects the quality of life of all patients, but especially those of us with disabilities.
On the day, the mood on the picket line was determined, it was lively and well attended, despite the sub-zero temperatures! We had fantastic support from sister branches and other unions, and great speeches by representatives from Manchester Trades Council and the People’s Assembly, as well as Andrea Egan, UNISON president.
It seems so obvious that the solution to the current crisis is to pay and value staff properly. As a brilliant placard on Tuesday read, NHS staff are for life, not just for COVID.