Nurses condemn ‘ignorant’ comments from Tory MP over food bank use

Nurses have criticised Conservative MP and former levelling up secretary Simon Clarke for his suggestion that they need to budget better if they are having to rely on food banks.

The MP, an ally of former prime minister Liz Truss, was accused of not living in the real world by nurses on a picket line outside University College Hospital in Euston, central London, on Thursday.

Striking nurses explained how real-terms pay cuts over the last decade have left some relying on charity or food banks to get by, as well as causing a recruitment crisis that has led to “unsafe” staffing levels.

Mother-of-one Ruth Perryman, 46, voted to go on strike but is not participating in the industrial action on Thursday because her trust had not backed walkouts. She is supporting the strikers.

The nurse of 20 years said she has not bought a passport for her 15-month-old son George and only buys him second-hand clothes and presents because she does not have enough money.

She said: “What Simon Clarke is saying is appalling but it is typical of a Conservative minister or MP. They are all about making money for themselves and keeping it for themselves.

“It used to be maybe one nurse would be from an agency. Now on some shifts half are.”

Stephen Rowley (pictured), 55, a service matron for cancer care at the hospital who has been a nurse for 31 years, said nurses are now doing jobs which were “once the domain of a medical professional only”.

He added: “I think Simon Clarke has shown a gross level of ignorance about real people doing a real job.

“It is all very well sitting in a sheltered job like an MP where I believe there are about three subsidised bars… these people need to come out and actually see people, rather than just commenting.

“I run a complex cancer service here and we could not do that here without the incredible expertise and compassion of thousands of nurses.”

Selena Hoskins, 42, a cancer nurse who has worked in nursing for 22 years, said: “We have to retain experienced nurses because they are the ones who mentor new nurses.

“We have highly skilled people with degrees, masters degrees and even PhDs. Nurses are prescribing and becoming medics for no extra pay.

“Simon Clarke’s comments make me feel angry and upset. Come and spend some time on the wards and know what it is like.”

Faye Hickey, 32, a ward sister at the hospital who has been a nurse for 10 years, said: “I am having to refer staff members to charities to help them with financial difficulties they have landed in through no fault of their own.

“Simon Clarke is implying that someone should stick so tightly to a budget that they don’t have the money for things that everyone deserves in life, such as holidays, hobbies or anything to relax.

“We do such a stressful job that takes up so much of your mental and physical energy – if you help a patient walk to the bathroom you are also assessing how much pain they are in and whether you need to talk to someone about their medication.

“You are thinking ‘are they better or are they worse? What prescription do I need? Do I need to make a referral to physiotherapy?’

“To then say to someone they should go home and spend their time working out how to avoid going to food banks is absolutely ridiculous.”

Ruth McDonald, 42, a clinical cancer specialist who has been a nurse for 27 years, said: “I did hear him (Simon Clarke) said that. It is absolutely not true.

“None of the staff that go to food banks want to go there.

“Where is the money when your boiler breaks down, or when the car breaks down or when there is no heating?”

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