Nurses are "living in poverty" and many are leaving the profession because "they can no longer afford to stay in it", the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) has said as it called on the Government to reopen talks about pay.
Pat Cullen, chief executive and general secretary of the RCN, said the Government's revised pay offer was rejected by nurses because it "isn’t sufficient to address those really critical issues". She urged ministers to prevent nurses from "going into the winter months on strike action again".
Speaking ahead of the RCN’s annual congress in Brighton, Ms Cullen told "Good Morning Britain": "We'll hear many debates over the next week, just about the conditions that our nursing staff are working in – they are harrowing to listen to, it's harrowing for our nurses, it's harrowing for our patients.
"We need to address the absolute crisis that we're in within the health service and the crisis that our nursing staff find themselves in."
Ms Cullen said that many nurses are "living in poverty and having to leave the profession simply because they can no longer afford to stay in it", adding that the 9% consolidated raise proposed by the Government over 2 years "isn't sufficient to address those really critical issues".
"We need to do something urgently and that's what our thousands of members are urging this Government to do," she added, referring to RCN members rejecting the Government's revised pay offer.
Why Nurses' Rejected the Pay Deal
The RCN is planning to ballot nurses again on May 23 to see whether they are prepared to stage further strikes.
Ms Cullen explained why RCN members chose to reject the Government's latest pay offer in a vote that she said had "one of the highest turnouts in the ballot so far".
"They said to us, 'it's not enough, it will address short-term measures within the health service but it will not address the long-term challenges that we have got'," she explained. "And I’m listening to them, and they obviously have spoken up very loud, 300,000 of them, and they want to get back round the table with Government and reopen negotiations.
"That’s what I’m focused on."
Ms Cullen added there was still time to avoid a strike next winter.
"We actually should be able to resolve this now – get around the table and do it for nursing and do it for patients."
At the conference in Brighton, members debated the issue of pay, with Karma McKeefery, nurse and RCN steward from the Lancashire East branch, saying members did not think the Government's pay offer was final.
She said: "We should feel proud that it was our historic strike action in the numbers we had that eventually forced the Government talks leading to the slightly improved final offer.
"Our members do not agree that this is the final offer. Once the lump sum they tempted us with has gone directly to the energy companies, what we are left with still amounts to a pay cut and will do nothing to aid recruitment and retention of nursing staff."
She said a "proper restorative pay rise will pay for itself as recruitment and retention of nurses into the NHS would save the billions of pounds spent each year on expensive agency nursing fees".