Struggling healthcare workers ‘going without food’ amid soaring hardship fund demand

Healthcare workers have inundated a charity with requests for financial support as they struggle to make ends meet (Picture: Getty Images)

Healthcare workers have applied for a hardship fund in record numbers and described being ‘broken’ as they struggle to cope with the pressures on the overburdened frontline. 

A charity supporting staff in the UK caring sector said that it has been ‘inundated’ with requests for financial support.  

The Healthcare Workers’ Foundation (HWF) shared some of the ‘heart-wrenching’ experiences of those it is helping as thousands of nurses began the first of two strikes today and tomorrow in an escalation of their pay dispute with the government.  

The industrial action, being taken across 55 NHS trusts in England, comes amid record waiting times for A&E admissions and a backlog of seven million people awaiting hospital treatment.  

Julie Child, the foundation’s chief executive, said: ‘We are finding that people in every part of the health system are struggling with the massive pressure they are under, it’s affecting every role, whether it’s midwives, occupational therapists, porters, cleaners or GPs.

‘What concerns us as an organisation is the attrition rates, with people leaving the healthcare sector due to the pressure and stress.

‘They often tell us that they can get a job with far less stress, with retail coming up quite a lot, particularly for the lower-paid jobs.’  

The charity was set up three years ago to provide emotional, physical and financial wellbeing to workers during the pandemic but has continued offering support during the current period of intense pressure on the NHS.

The cost of living crisis has exacerbated the strain, with the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) calling for a pay increase of 5% above inflation this year. 

‘We are inundated with requests for hardship grants and the number is going up all the time,’ Ms Child said.  

Royal College of Nursing members on the picket line outside the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital (Picture: Joe Giddens/PA Wire)

‘We know it is extremely tough out there for a lot of people but as an organisation we are set up to support healthcare workers with their financial struggles. Some of the stories we are hearing are heart-wrenching, we are hearing of people going without meals so they can feed their kids and we have had anecdotal comments about people eating leftover patients’ food because they are feeding their kids at home. 

‘It’s not just restricted to people with kids, there is a genuine need out there and there’s a double whammy because the cost of living crisis has also led to a drop in donations to charities. Although we are only a small charity, we are trying our best to meet the demand.’ 

The HWF offers grants of up to £1,000 for UK workers experiencing ‘exceptional financial hardship’, with £70,648 given out to date. 

So far this month the charity has received 200 applications, with the number continually rising since the scheme was launched in August. 

The locations of strikes being undertaken by the Royal College of Nursing on January 18 and 19 (Picture:

Ms Child said: ‘We have given a grant recently to someone who couldn’t afford to buy winter clothes for their children and there was somebody whose washing machine broke and they couldn’t afford to fix it. 

‘We have had requests for tyres and MOTS, particularly from people working in the community who are finding the increase in fuel costs is eating into their money as well.

‘We had one lady who was the victim of domestic violence and needed help with a house move because she couldn’t move her things out of storage. 

‘Some people are desperate and it’s sad that these are the people who two-and-a-half years ago were being clapped and cheered every Thursday and now they are the ones at the sharp end.’  

I feel broken when mothers desperately need my care

The foundation shared comments from three demoralised and exhausted workers who described being on the frontline of the creaking NHS. 

Maya, 33, an NHS dietician from London, said: ‘My workload has expanded with waiting times for my patients now exceeding eight months.

‘I feel exhausted and constantly feel like I am doing a substandard job for patients who ideally need to be seen within four weeks of referral.’ 

Stacey, an occupational therapist, also expressed concern for her patients, a recurrent theme among many of those who have approached the charity, which provides mental health support. 

The pressure is extreme, patients are tripping over each other

‘The pressure in the acute hospital setting has been so extreme,’ she said.

‘I have witnessed patients tripping over other patients, beds and belongings and colleagues being unable to safely supervise patients due to the number of patients being fitted into a bay. I have seen patients wait in hospital for as long as six weeks for a package of care to become available so that they are supported when they return home.’  

Danielle, 39, a midwife from London, also spoke of struggling to cope at a time when the NHS in England has 47,000 nurses’ vacancies.  

‘I am exhausted, I am broken,’ she said. ‘I have no choice but to carry on due to financial needs. Each shift we are understaffed, we go 12 hours without breaks, without good nutrition and no energy to provide the care which is needed and desperately required by mothers. 

‘With the huge maternity crisis, we are failing families by being unable to provide the care they dream of, which is not being fulfilled. I try my best each day but when I leave a shift, I feel broken.’ 

NHS workers have shared their inner thoughts as they struggle to cope on the frontline (Picture: Victoria Jones/PA)

The RCN is calling on the government to open formal talks about the requested above-inflation pay rise, which it says reflects the cost of living crisis, patient safety and years of real-terms pay cuts.

The increase would equate to a 19% uplift based on retail inflation figures for November 2022, although it has been reported that the nursing union would compromise at 10%  

The RCN plans to further escalate the strikes on February 6 and 7 to include members at 73 trusts in England and all but one NHS employer in Wales if formal negotiations do not begin before the end of the month.

The health secretary Steve Barclay said today that the strikes ‘will pile on further pressure at this challenging time’ and the government cannot ‘provide unaffordable pay rises to NHS staff’.  

In an article for the Independent, he wrote: ‘I want to continue the constructive dialogue with union leaders about how to make the NHS a better place to work and deliver better care for patients. 

‘I know we can find a fair way to resolve this.’ 

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