NHS staff who risked their lives during the coronavirus pandemic are demanding a pay rise and threatening strikes despite warnings of a second wave.
Nurses and other healthcare workers are demanding a 15% pay rise to reflect the contributions they made and to make up for “years of pay erosion”.
Hundreds marched through central London on Saturday following a two-minute silence to remember the 640 healthcare workers who died of COVID-19.
Dressed in scrubs smeared in fake blood, they waved placards that read “blood on their hands”, “stop clapping, start paying” and “priceless but penniless”.
David Carr, a critical care nurse at St Thomas’ hospital where Boris Johnson was treated for the virus, told Sky News: “I’m not a warrior, I’m not a soldier, I don’t come to work expecting to die.
“During lockdown, when these streets were completely empty, when everyone else was working from home, I was going to work, wrapping myself in PPE and looking after your loved ones.
“We can’t afford to live on the salaries that we’re on.
“Considering what we’ve done during COVID, given how we worked, given that 640 of us gave our lives to fight this pandemic, we think it’s an absolute outrage.”
The protest comes after nurses were left out of a government pay rise thanking 900,000 public sector workers for their contributions during the coronavirus outbreak.
The pay increase does not apply to junior doctors after they agreed a four-year deal last year.
Amid warnings of a second wave of the virus after a spike in cases, Mr Carr said his colleagues are prepared to strike.
He said: “If we don’t get a pay rise, we will strike.”
A&E nurse Ameera Sheikh added: “The government is liable for the 640 health workers who have died.
“The reckless decision making, the ignorance – they are liable for all these deaths.”
She said that despite working longer hours to treat COVID patients at the height of the pandemic, there was no increase in staff pay.
Alia Butt, 33, an NHS psychotherapist in Essex and chair of Nurses Staff Voices, said: “We have simply had enough.
“The money is there. They are simply just not providing it to NHS staff. The government clearly has not got a clue about what it is doing and that is very scary. Nurses saved the lives of the prime minister. What more do we need to do to get paid properly?”
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesman said it is “grateful” for the “hard worker and dedication” shown by staff.
They said: “NHS staff are currently benefiting from the final year of a three-year pay deal, which has delivered year-on-year pay increases, such as increasing the starting salary for a newly qualified nurse by 12% by 2021.
“The independent NHS pay review body makes recommendations to government on pay increases for NHS staff, including nurses, and we will consider their advice when we receive it, while continuing to listen to our valued staff and the trade unions to ensure everyone is rewarded fairly.”