Women are on the front-lines defending our NHS – Holly Turner, NHS Workers Say No


“The Government has condemned our strikes as unsafe but we say, the NHS is unsafe every day of the year under Tory austerity.”

Holly Turner, NHS Workers Say No

This article is a published version of the speech given by Holly Turner, NHS Workers Say No on the Women for Socialist Change – International Women’s Day Rally hosted by Arise Festival on March 8th.

WATCH: Women for Socialist Change – International Women’s Day 2023 rally

My name is Holly, I am a Nurse, activist and trade Union Rep. I am also a founder of the grassroots self-organised campaign NHS Workers Say No! I, alongside three other Nurses, set up this group to stand up and say that we have had enough. We are at risk, our families are at risk, and so are our patients and our wider communities.

We have been hurtling towards a critical point within our NHS for a long time, we set out to empower others to stand up, and organise, and agitate to demand better for us all . We want to be loud, and we want to make a hell of a lot of noise. The struggle for pay and safety across a predominantly female workforce is something we should be shouting about.

After sounding the alarm for over a decade many staff have become so disillusioned or burnt out that they have simply walked away, leaving us with 135,000 vacancies across the NHS and applications to study nursing falling by 30%. Newly qualified nursing now graduates with around 70,000 worth of debt, and then are straight into work in unsafe conditions carrying unmanageable workloads, with very few skilled and experienced staff available to support them. Whilst the Government until recently have refused to negotiate on pay, we have seen their true motives, a ramp up of privatisation with bright ideas such as charging people for GP appts and attending A&E being ideas floated around.

We know that this governments policy on NHS pay disproportionately affect women, who make up almost 80% of the workforce, so here we have yet another tory policy hitting the living standards of women workers hardest. The exploitation of women is clear within the NHS, we have been gender stereotyped within our jobs with the narrative that we are doing the job because we ‘care’ and in turn, that demanding a restorative pay increase after a decade of cuts to our wages is in some way greedy. We do not accept this.

Despite making up over three quarters of the workforce only a third of senior positions are held by women. It’s often suggested that this is in part due to barriers we face during our careers such as time off to have children and then when we return, we are offered little to no flexible working option, narrowing our opportunities for promotion.

Like all NHS Workers, Nurses are dedicated to our work We care deeply for our patients. if we finish our shift and there aren’t enough staff, we stay. I have worked over 24 hours in one shift before due to critical staffing and I know that I won’t be in the minority having done that. NHS Staff do thousands of pounds worth of unpaid overtime every year to desperately plug the gap left by a recruitment and retention crisis, and unfortunately, this government has abused this level of commitment to continue to force through year after year of cuts to our pay, destroy our basic working conditions and exploit us further.

However, we have seen that the government have truly underestimated us. We have recently seen the first national nursing strike in the royal college of nursing’s history and along with that, we have seen national strike action across all corners of the NHS and ambulance service. And these strikes have been years in the making, with COVID19 being a landmark moment where we have seen what has happened when we don’t invest in our frontline workers and where we don’t organise to get the things we need. The Government has condemned our strikes as unsafe but we say, the NHS is unsafe every day of the year under Tory austerity.

We are currently in a pivotal moment. Our health unions entered pay negotiations with the government yesterday and these will reportedly last for three days before we are offered an update. This is a testament to staff who have worked so hard, who stood on freezing picket lines for 12 hours losing pay because these are the necessary steps if we want to achieve fair pay and a safely staffed workforce. And this is not just about us, it is about safeguarding the NHS for future generations, it is about kicking out the privateers and profiteers who have no place in our NHS. We reject those who look towards the private sector to save us, this is not the answer.

NHS Staff together with patients and supporters are at the forefront of fighting for the future of our health service which is why on Saturday there is a national demonstration in central London to demand that the crisis in our health service is addressed. We need to send a clear message to this government that we will not allow the destruction of our NHS. We will continue to fight together, for a fully funded, publicly owned, free at the point of use NHS to serve all of society, at a time when health inequalities are worsening and the gap between rich and poor is responsible for the death of thousands. So please continue supporting health workers in their struggle, and let’s keep up the fight for a socialist society!

Thank you, and solidarity!

  • Holly Turner is the founder of NHS Workers Say No and a mental health nurse. You can follow her on Twitter here; and NHS Workers Say No on Facebook, Instagram and twitter.
  • SOS NHS DEMONSTRATION – END THE NHS CRISIS – SUPPORT THE STRIKES. Saturday 11 March – 12pm – Central London, NW1 3AA. Get more information here and sign-up for the Labour bloc here.
  • Holly Turner was speaking at the Women for Socialist Change – International Women’s Day Rally hosted by Arise Festival on March 8th. You can watch it in full here; or listen as a podcast here.
Featured image: Holly Turner joins a demonstration in support of the nurses’ strike. Photo credit: NHS workers Say NO

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