We spoke to nurses on the front line

The 1% suggested pay rise has incensed front line NHS workers across the UK, who have spent almost every waking hour of the past year helping to save lives. We spoke to them about what 1% of their job really looks like.

Yesterday was International Nurses’ Day, and has there ever been a better year to appreciate all nurses do for us? The pandemic has seen many of them make extraordinary sacrifices, and shone a light on the gruelling, often thankless, but ultimately life-saving work they do. 

Yet just this week we heard the news that some 25,000 nurses are going to receive activist training in order to protest against the “pitiful” 1% pay increase suggested for nurses in England and Wales by Boris Johnson’s government (they’re pushing for a 12.5% rise to reflect the harrowing front line experience of the pandemic). Dua Lipa used her Brit Awards acceptance speech to call for a fair pay rise for all frontline NHS staff: “I think what we should do is we should all give a massive, massive round of applause and five Boris (Johnson) a message that we all support a fair pay rise for our front line”. Here at The Know, we want to add our voice to the chorus. 

So, we spoke to nurses on the ground to highlight the difference 1% of their job can make. Nurses work 37.5 hours a week on average, not including breaks, meaning 1% of their time roughly equals 22.5 minutes. This is what a nurse can achieve in just 20 minutes of his or her time…

By R.H.

In 20 minutes I have resuscitated a patient and they have survived; in 20 minutes I have performed last offices on a patient that hasn’t survived. If nurses didn’t do these things, who would?”

Katie, a radiology nurse from Manchester

Typically we will spend 20 minutes preparing patients for their procedures. Sometimes this can take much longer: talking to them, easing their anxieties, explaining what to expect from their procedure, and ensuring they are well informed. In this time I could check that their blood results are in range, that they have been starved, ensure their vital signs are all in range (BP, Temperature, heart rate, o2 levels). If this hasn’t been done patient can suffer mentally, as they wouldn’t know what was coming next. Besides which, if we don’t check patients’ blood results, vital signs or that they have been starved, it might be unsafe to go forward with the operation. The planning, assessment and implementation of care is an essential part of nursing and must never be compromised – those 20 minutes could literally be the difference of life and death for someone having an operation.

Jessica, an ITU nurse

We do constant monitoring on my unit. If no nurse took responsibility for patient care in my area it could have life threatening effects. Patients on ventilators need constant monitoring from an experienced ITU nurse to ensure effective ventilation is taking place. Even one minute without effective ventilation could cause the patient to become severely hypoxic, which can easily lead to severe brain damage or even death.

Often patients waking from induced comas become aggressive due to their disorientation, becoming a danger to themselves and other people as they try to remove important medical support and attack staff. Personally I have been attacked by a patient and injured so badly I had to go to A&E. That was with five other medical professional helping me and trying to protect me. Without that support my safety and wellbeing would have been at a much higher risk. Without constant monitoring from nurses, it can take seconds for a patient to disconnect medication that is sustaining their cardiovascular system. If that’s not prevented immediately, the patient will likely go into cardiac arrest and may even die.

It takes years to train to be a nurse and further ITU training to be able to manage all the medications and equipment safely and effectively. Without the 24-hour care we provide, most patients would not survive ITU.


In 20 minutes I could do…

  • An oral meds round (or half of one, as it’ll usually take longer). A patient could die from missed essential medication.
  • An intravenous meds round (probably for 3-4 patients), as patients could become septic if missing strong antibiotics.
  • Mobilise patients – if we don’t, it would hinder their rehab and patients may not walk again.
  • Undertake part of a doctors’ ward round (takes much longer) – a lack of communication between doctors and ward staff increases risk for error.
  • Intravenous fluids, feeds – patients becomes malnourished, dehydrated or their blood levels become dangerously damaged if we don’t.
  • Escorting to scans off the ward – the patient could become unwell off the ward on their own with no one trained to look after them if we don’t attend.
  • Wash patients/personal care/toileting/clean teeth – if not done patients could be left wet, soiled at risk of sores and lacking dignity.
  • Documentation and hand over – if not written there’s no evidence of what occurred, leading to risk of error, things being missed, or an overdose medication.
  • So much more!

Would you like to support a higher pay rise for nurses? Sign the Royal College of Nurses petition here.