A survey commissioned by the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) and carried out by YouGov found that around 72% of the public feels the NHS lacks adequate staff to carry out care duties.
In May, nine in ten of the RCN’s membership said they would support industrial action short of a strike and nearly eight in ten said they were prepared to go on strike if the pay cap is not lifted.
Earlier this year, the Nursing and Midwifery Council warned that the nursing profession was shrinking because more people were now leaving the nursing register than joining it.
A similar proportion believes nurses are underpaid for their work, including a majority of Conservative voters.
The nursing union is calling on the Government to scrap the pay cap, which has driven a nurse recruitment and retention crisis in the NHS.
RCN chief executive and general secretary Janet Davies said the poll findings showed the public were aware of nurse staffing shortages. “Ministers are significantly out of touch with public opinion”, she said.
They also say pay is contributing to an ongoing recruitment and retention crisis in the NHS, which now has 40,000 vacancies for nurses.
“We are helping the NHS to make sure it has the right staff, in the right place, at the right time to provide safe care – that’s why there are over 31,100 more professionally qualified clinical staff, including over 11,600 more doctors, and nearly 12,000 more nurses on our wards since May 2010”.
Jonathan Ashworth, Labour shadow health secretary, called for an immediate end to the cap.
As revealed on Monday, reports have suggested that the government may take a phased approach to lifting the pay cap from 2018.
Other unions, including the largest public sector union Unison, should campaign and ballot their members for pay strikes.
In 2015 the government announced public sector pay would be capped at 1% on an annual basis for a further four years.
Chancellor Philip Hammond is under pressure to give public pay review bodies greater flexibility on wage rises.
The RCN says its members’ concerns are echoed by patients.
Senior ministers including Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt, Defence Secretary Michael Fallon and Boris Johnson, the Foreign Secretary, have all hinted at support for an end to the cap.