Food banks in hospitals have become the norm, with senior staff including ward sisters relying on them for supplies of essentials such as milk and bread, according to nurses.
The long-running dispute over pay and staffing in the NHS shows that the service has reached a “boiling point”, with experienced staff leaving for better-paid jobs in supermarkets, a union official warned.
If they are replaced at all, it is with young students, leaving wards staffed by inexperienced workers, nurses revealed during a discussion at Unison’s annual conference in Bournemouth.
Stuart Tuckwood, the union’s national nursing officer, said that, coupled with the loss of staff, nurses are dealing with more complex work.
“It seems as if the NHS has reached a boiling point. Throughout the recent strikes, unions have had huge public support – it’s only the Government that hasn’t realised how important health workers are.
Trudie Martin, an assistant practitioner from Devon, said hospitals across the country now have food banks for nursing staff, while NHS trusts in her region are trying to help nurses cope with the cost-of-living crisis by suspending car parking charges and even offering subsidies for driving lessons.
“There is definitely a struggle to recruit NHS staff because we are competing with supermarkets now,” she said.
“The level of help being offered in hospitals, such as food banks, has never happened before.”
Wilma Brown, a nurse from Scotland, said the pay rise of 5% for this year and a cash sum for last year, which Unison members have accepted, has lifted morale, but she believes it is only a “stop gap” to tackling the problems in the NHS.
“It’s just a sticking plaster, not a proper solution to encouraging more people into nursing.”
Steve Jones, a mental health nurse from Stoke-on-Trent, said he is not sure he would recommend a career in the NHS to anyone, adding that vacancy rates in some areas are up to 26%.
The nurses said food banks are now the norm in hospitals, with senior staff such as ward managers and senior sisters relying on them for basic supplies.