Why nurses should act without delay over zero hours contracts

The NMC code of conduct (section 16) instructs us to “Act without delay if you believe that there is a risk to patient safety or public protection.”  Section 19.3 includes a duty to: “promote recommended practice in relation to controlling and preventing infection”.
At this time of the Coronavirus pandemic, extreme social distancing measures are in place across society and within our workplaces. In the last few weeks we have limited face to face patient contact to an absolute minimum and many of us have taken extraordinary measures to maintain social distance within our daily lives in order that we can continue to work caring for patients. 
However, during this crisis almost all NHS workers will be dependent upon and surrounded by other keyworkers who have no ordinary rights to sick pay: agency staff, outsourced workers, delivery drivers and others on zero hours contracts. Often these workers are among the lowest paid. If they or a member of their household develop Coronavirus symptoms they are under enormous financial pressure to keep on working. Some may follow the government’s public health advice and take the financial hit. But inevitably, some will not be able to afford to do this. 
There are hundreds of thousands of keyworkers without ordinary rights to paid leave, who will be out and about working with us through the lockdown. Many of these workers will be working in our buildings over the next few weeks. Their lack of basic rights put us all at risk and means that this deadly virus will spread more quickly, increasing the chances that our patients get infected, increasing the risk that we get infected, and putting an unnecessary burden on the NHS. 
This issue could be sorted out today if NHS leaders issued a public guarantee that all workers in NHS buildings had the right to paid leave to comply with public health advice. NHS leaders have a duty to reduce the risk of infection and harm to a minimum. Every day they fail to speak out on this issue increases the risk. Regardless of what management do or say, our professional code of conduct insists we “act without delay”. In this instance that means making as much noise as possible about this issue until we win full rights for all essential workers.   

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