'WE'RE worried the NHS is unsafe for patients.' 

That was the message striking Royal College of Nursing (RCN) members had for the government outside Westmorland General Hospital in Kendal on Tuesday.

Spirits were high, with the group saying that today (February 7) was not as cold as the previous one. Many drivers honked their horns in support and even the workers in a passing bin lorry waved at them. 

The Westmorland Gazette: The members of the RCN on strike outside Westmorland GeneralThe members of the RCN on strike outside Westmorland General (Image: Newsquest, Daniel Pye)

Since the austerity budget, nurses have said that the profession has become underfunded and is unable to attract a younger workforce. In October last year, there were 46,828 nursing, midwifery and health visiting vacancies according to NHS England figures. 

The RCN says that patients have not been put at risk by the strikes because employers can apply for derogations. This means that wards are kept to an agreed level of staffing, which was negotiated with the union before the strike.

There are also services that are derogated in their entirety such as intensive care, chemotherapy, and dialysis. 

Grace Leedham, an advance nurse practitioner, said: "The strike is about pay - it affects nursing numbers and the fact that they have been haemorrhaging nurses for many years, particularly with the austerity crisis.

READ MORE: Crowds of nurses strike outside Westmorland General Hospital

“We’re highlighting to the government in the only way we can now tell them that we’re worried that the NHS is now unsafe for our patients.”

She said that the mean average salary for a nurse does not reflect how much new workers start on, which is often similar to a retail wage. 

Jane Rigby, a community respiratory nurse, said that she was going on strike because of 'staffing levels, the safety of our patients, concerns really about the future of the NHS.'

Ruth Corfield, a district nurse, said that for her personally, it was not about compensation but 'I'm holding a placard for pay as I know a lot of the new people coming in certainly struggle with pay.' 

Both nurses said that they thought all young people in training should have their tuition fees covered, which was the case until 2017.

The government at the time said that this was changed to increase places for nursing courses. 

Mental health minister Maria Caulfield told BBC Radio 4's Today programme the “door is firmly open” to further talks with health unions.

Despite this, she gave no guarantee of pay rises. She said: “The Secretary of State and the Prime Minister have been clear that that would be extremely difficult to do because it wouldn’t just be for nurses; you would have teachers saying, ‘Could we open this year’s pay settlement?’. You’ve got ambulance drivers, rail workers…

“There is a range of public sector workers who would also want the same request. Across the board, you’re talking about billions of pounds to pay for that and we want to put that into frontline services, as we are doing now.”