“Stop clapping, start paying!”, NHS workers demanding a pay-rise.

Nurses, the heroes of the pandemic

Through their tireless work, nurses have saved countless lives during the Covid-19 pandemic. One of those lives was that of British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who was hospitalised with the Coronavirus at the beginning of the pandemic (after shaking hands with infected patients against expert advice) and believes the reason he is alive today is thanks to the medical care by two NHS nurses. Particularly at the start of lockdowns, the great service to our communities by nurses, doctors and other healthcare professionals received audible support by the public with people clapping and cheering from their balconies. But given that nurses are literally risking their lives for our communities, shouldn’t they receive more than applause as thanks?

Applause does not pay the bills

Many countries are currently considering giving a Covid-Bonus to healthcare staff. While this idea has generally seen support, many argue that a one-time bonus simply does not cut it. Despite the significant responsibility they carry, nursing jobs are not well paid across Europe (though there are differences between countries). Yet already before the pandemic nurses struggled under tough working conditions, like stress and overtime due to understaffed wards – add a pandemic to that and many nurses and doctors found themselves completely burnt out. In the UK, Boris Johnson’s conservative government believed that the services of healthcare staff should be rewarded with a 1% pay-rise. This suggestion sparked fury among nurses, who had already endured a decade of austerity imposed on the NHS by conservatives. In defence of the proposed pay-rise health minister Lord Bethell argued that “nurses are well-paid for the job” and that health workers at least had secure jobs during a pandemic that many people would “envy”. What do you think, how should health workers be rewarded for their services during Covid? Should nurses be paid more in general?   

What do our readers think?

Our reader Daniela, thinks that the Covid crisis “ is showing everyone’s true colors and especially nurses are fighting in the frontline very courageously.” But given the incredible work nurses are doing to fight Covid-19, shouldn’t they be awarded financially as well?

For an answer to this question, we took Daniela’s comment to Joséfine Declaye, who is a Belgian intensive care nurse next to working in scientific research and development at the Medical Simulation Center at the University of Liège. As a nurse who is fighting against Covid-19 on the frontline, would she agree with Daniela?

Thank you for your question. In the first wave, we received a lot of support and I thought “it’s kind of cheesy and like in Hollywood”, but it actually really cheered us up. So, it really made a difference. Regarding the question of money: Of course, if you give me more money, I’ll take more money! That’s not the question, but there’s also a lot of different ways to recognize the sacrifices made by our profession. Increasing money is one option, but for nurses specifically, we could put more people on the wards, recognize the tough nature of the work, so you get retirement sooner, and you could also have some other advantages that are not money. So, I would not only focus on money, even though it is of course important, because when I need to get my car fixed, I cannot pay the repair shop in “Thank yous” and applause, I still need to pay.

For another perspective, we also took Daniela’s question to Ulrike Beilenhoff, who is an endoscopy nurse, lecturer and the chairperson of DEGEA (German Society for Endoscopy Professions), as well as the Scientific Secretary of ESGENA (European Society of Gastroenterology and Endoscopy Nurses and Associates). What would she say to Daniela?

Thank you very much, Daniela, for the important question. Yes, we nurses are working on the front line and all over Europe nurses do not really earn much money. It depends on the academic level nurses have, so if they have a bachelor’s or master’s degree, like in the UK or in Scandinavian countries, they earn more money than other countries, like in Germany, where they have a normal education. It is also a question of self-awareness: “What is my work worth?” and also a question of official recognition and so “What is my work worth for the society?”. Therefore, nurses should definitely get more money, and that would also keep the job attractive for younger people.

On the other hand, our reader George thinks that “better healthcare” does not automatically result from more money. Instead he thinks that the solution is improved management of human resources and facilities. Is better management the solution or do we also need to raise nurses’ and doctors’ salaries to improve our healthcare?

What would Ulrike Beilenhoff, the chairperson of DEGEA, say to George?

George, thank you very much for your comment. You raised an important topic, because facilities also influence your work environment. You definitely need a good environment to provide good care. The facilities influence our daily work, but on the other hand, a higher income would also make job more attractive for younger people. Because, as we know, we already have a shortage of nurses all over Europe and worldwide, so we need to make the job attractive for younger people. And the higher salary makes it more attractive.

What does intensive care nurse and researcher Joséfine Declaye think? Is better management the solution or do we also need to raise nurses’ and doctors’ salaries to improve our healthcare?

I think there is a huge problem and it has many layers. Money is one layer, but there is a danger that if you focus on one layer only, you forget everything else. I think that in terms of money, healthcare is a really special case. Because if you invest money well in it, then the demand for money will be less later. If your first line of care is really strong, then you don’t have to end up with the worst case scenario. If you catch a disease really early and you improve the literacy in health of your population, your community, you need to spend less money in the end. So, we need more money, but I would focus especially on the “first line of defense” and prevention, education and not only focus on increasing salaries. Because we will all be happy if we get more money, but this is not the only solution.

We all need rethink how healthcare is finance-able and stable.  We need strategies and research about where to invest. I’m part of an Intensive Care Nurses Association (SIZ Nursing) in Belgium and our aim is to recognize nurses and the ratio we need in an ICU unit: is the way we work still effective? Is it still up to date? In the year 2021, how has ICU care changed from what it was like in the 1980s? So we should rely on research to set our goals for the ratio. In general, we need more evidence based public health.

Finally, our user Blagovest from Bulgaria is observing that healthcare professionals in poorer countries often move abroad as soon as their training is finished, because the pay in their own countries is so low. He thinks that this situation leads to a brain drain in those countries. Is he right? We took his question to Ulrike Beilenhoff for an answer.

Thank you, Blagovest, you raised a very difficult problem. This is a problem for your home country Bulgaria, because you lose a lot of qualified staff. You lose your brain, as you said. But on the other hand, the nurses who go to other European countries, like Germany, Belgium, France, they get a lower salary than the local nurses. That is also form of modern slavery. So, for both situations it is unfair: In your country, you lose the nurses and in the host country, it keeps the recognition of the nurses low. Because there is a feeling that you can get “some lower qualified staff from other countries”. This really is a problem, and we have to solve that.

Based on her experience, would Joséfine Declaye agree with Blagovest?

I’m no expert on migration, but I can share my own experience. I think that brain drain is happening, but again it’s a problem with many layers. During my nursing courses I got to go abroad, I went to the UK and to Morocco and it was really inspiring. I expected there to be many differences, but actually we all related to the patients, how we cared for them and we connected as nurses. With regards to the brain drain, I would say countries need to improve the quality of living for nurses there. Because going abroad for your work is also a huge sacrifice, as you’re leaving your family and everything behind. So, money is definitely a factor here. But as I said, I went abroad and it really helped me to learn to think outside the box and it helped me to sharpen my expertise and my knowledge about European nurses. So, to summarize, going abroad is a good thing and I would recommend it.

But there’s a responsibility for European leaders to harmonize everything so that people feel good in their own country and they wouldn’t need to go abroad to make sufficient living. As a nurse you’re doing a great job and it needs to be recognized by the salary you get, and the way your country sees nurses. Apart from that, it can also be a problem when nurses or doctors come here from abroad and don’t speak French well, but have to work with old patients. Migration abroad for nurses shouldn’t be about money or recognition in their own country, it should be about education, research and learning other aspects of nursing. In Canada, they are developing nursing studies and a master’s degree in nursing. So, there’s an academic recognition in Canada, that we don’t have in Belgium.

Should all nurses be paid more?

How should nurses be rewarded for their work in fighting the Coronavirus? Would higher salaries lead to better healthcare or is better management the solution? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below and we’ll take them to policymakers and experts for their reactions!

Image Credits: Ehimetalor Akhere Unuabona on Unsplash

22 comments Post a commentcomment

What do YOU think?

  1. avatar

    A pandemic is ad hoc. Pay rise is permanent. To address contribution and sacrifice of all nurses during the pandemic, a monthly special allowance is preferred.

  2. avatar
    EU Reform Proactive

    A general pay rise affecting the government workforce is problematic and usually subject to drawn-out annual or so, national wage negotiations. Paying a risk or a danger allowance is more appropriate. The private sector has fewer restrictions, more freedom & can/should react much faster & more generously (if they value their staff) compared to slow-moving governments.

    This Covid-19 pandemic qualifies as a rare exception and requires extraordinary measures. All employers should act fairly, quickly, generously & equitable.

    All health worker, from doctors, nurses to cleaners and support staff exposed to Covid-19 must receive a risk allowance, additional insurance cover, moral & psychological support when needed. All provided without delay by their employers and eventually recovered from all users & taxpayers over time.

    A World Bank blog sums it up nicely: “Legitimate, Temporary, Easy to verify, Equitable”


    One must be grateful & thank all these tireless heroes for risking their lives during the present but horrifying pandemic.

    But equally condemn all those being reckless, who disrespect & devalue the life of these brave- by stubbornly disobeying & disregarding minimum precautionary measures.

    Anyone identified as being defiant should lose their medical coverage and made to carry their own medical bills (plus a penalty charge) once falling sick and then ‘begging’ for medical treatment in hospitals.

  3. avatar
    catherine benning

    Do all nurses deserve a pay-rise?

    Does anyone reading this thread know why the picture at the head of this question is a British NHS working nurse? Does Europe anywhere have anything like the British NHS? The UK is no longer part of the European Union and the NHS system never was, in any shape or form, similar to European health care. Had it been we would not be inundated with mass illegal migration coming over to use our services in order to be freely treated, without paying one penny to the coffers of the British tax payer in reimbursement.

    My friend recently had to go into a central London hospital for a very serious test package. It was a ludicrously frightening experience for her. Not one person she saw in there spoke English well enough to put together a sentence. They were all off hand and rude. Tried to force her to accept a treatment not related to what she went there for, because, they had decided from her notes that her GP had no right to demand they do this without first getting ‘their’ permission and direction for it. Incidentally all were women. There was not a man to be seen.

    Who was telling her this? Why, the assessor, who is a kind of receptionist over seeing individuals who went in for tests. She felt she would change the CT scan from Full body to just Waist….. Where were her questioned tumours, why, in the throat, spine and lower abdomen. Which of course, didn’t include her waist? Why did this woman do this? Well, because ‘friend’ questioned this persons right to do so without knowing her full medical history. And, by challenging her like this my friend was being claimed a ‘racist,’ deserving this intervention by a person who could barely comprehend English. Of course, my friend refused to put herself in danger like this and went home to bed. Where she’s stayed since. Terrified to speak to anyone in case she is ‘arrested’ and sent to jail for refusing to accept the treatment. My friend is in no way racist she has two mixed race children. The racist call was this persons ploy to keep her nose clean.

    Therefore, the picture you have of an NHS nurse supporting our wonderful health service is way off key. Most of our NHS workers, in fact, entire health care workers, NHS or private, in London are representative of the majority of our population. They are migrants of the world. In fact ‘Globalists’ who despise those they are asked to treat.

    Will this get through the monitoring system? I wonder.

  4. avatar
    Kahraman Marangoz

    Yes they deserve a pay rise because they were more at risk then any other work and they had to work more hours what have cost them extra effort.

  5. avatar
    Christian TOUMPSIN

    It is certain that nurses should be better paid in relation to their level of training and their responsibilities in the field.

    However, the increase in pay will not have the slightest effect on working conditions. It is also important to increase the nursing teams in order to significantly reduce the workload.

    Here is an interesting paper about nursing staffing : https://www.thelancet.com/pdfs/journals/lancet/PIIS0140-6736(21)00768-6.pdf

  6. avatar

    The answer seems so simple because nurses are overworked and undervalued (monetarily).

    But socialized healthcare does not so easily allow for higher pay of its biggest share of workforce.

    So the question is rather, are we willing to pay more for our healthcare or cut on services to better remunerate nurses?

    I think yes.

    • avatar
      catherine benning

      Do all nurses deserve a pay-rise?

      Unless and until the UK and Europe accept, we cannot and will not be able to continue with a civilised healthcare service for our population, when our money continues to be leaned on this heavily. Under such a regime nurses can only remain in poverty. To keep this planet and the billions alive within it, with only one half of the whole footing the bill, is crazy thinking. It is impoverishing us all. And nurses, along with your mad notion, are facing potential starvation, whilst taking the brunt of suffering you create. Give up trying to control the world’s billions. Accept they will have to run their own countries economy and health service, out of their own pockets and enterprise. Bring our functioning economy back to our own national identity, before you have us as impoverished as those you wish to modernise. They do not want the bother of it, all those begging adverts show you that. Expecting European tax payers to keep the world serviced is not in your gift. Learn to accept and surrender to nature and the natural order of things. You are not smart enough to compete with the laws of circumstance. Europeans need to eat as well as non Europeans. ‘Their lives matter.’ Once you destroy what we have created there will be no saved souls. Over extended bank accounts always put paid to profligate enterprise. And that is what Globalism is.

      The question you ask is incomplete. What it should say is, are ‘European’ nurses willing to continue saving the planets impoverished sick, at the same time as destroying their personal individual charitable status, gifted by European taxes?

      Another notion here should be, why is the West taking medical staff out of ‘developing countries’ to prop up our own system? When our own medical staff were equally, if not more, competent than those imported.

  7. avatar

    I think that nurses do some of the hardest work that is required in this world. This is especially seen through their work in fighting the pandemic. A raise for all nurses would be extremely nice, but it would also create a number of problems. A raise in pay would mean that there would have to be an increase in certain prices for medical care and other expenses. This could cause families to go into financial crisis and cause other terrible possibilities. It would be nice for nurses to get a raise, but it is just not logical for them to get a raise all at once.

    There are other options to reward and show nurses that we appreciate them besides a pay raise. Some of these alternatives for a pay raise would be more vacation days, a lighter work load, or some sort of pay raise for those who work for a certain number or years. A pay raise could be an option if it is distributed to a certain number of people at different times. As long as the raise does not complicate other costs then it could be done to an extent. However, I think that if there is a raise a budget should be created. This budget should not be maxed out when paying the nurses because if there is any complications money would still be available. A pay raise is not completely out of the question, but it would have to be done logically and correctly when considering finances.

  8. avatar

    Why don’t just reward them with applauds?

  9. avatar

    Yes and not just for the job done under pandemics.

  10. avatar

    Absolutely. It is strange how different professions are valued. Nurses, shop clerks, garbage collectors, transport employees, repair people… without them the high-earning do-nothing celebrities, currency dealers, bankers and industrial bosses couldn’t live. Or anyone else, for that matter. The most basic – I’m almost inclined to say most important – jobs in society are often the most undervalued.

  11. avatar

    Treating the sick is their job, it’s what they signed up for. Why do they need an extra pay rise for doing the job they’re already paid for? Ridiculous

    • avatar
      EU Reform Proactive

      Hi Rob, your ‘ridiculous comment’ sounds just like “Крис’s” & deserves the same reaction!

      The national earnings structure is one thing- a well-understood incentive/bonus scheme- bridging extraordinary circumstances (Covid-19 pandemic)- is another way to show appreciation & motivate workers.

  12. avatar

    Of course they deserve a pay-rise. How do you expect them to pay for their bills? With applause?

    • avatar

      Крис Караджов

  13. avatar

    Of course they do,no question asked!!!

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