Nurses on picket lines have said staff shortages mean patients are being neglected, while low salaries mean some nurses are turning to food banks to feed their children.

Outside Aintree University Hospital in Liverpool, nurses began joining the picket line from 7.30am, with many holding placards with slogans such as “Short staffing costs lives”, “You clapped for us, now act for us” and “If nurses are out here, there’s something wrong in there”.

One nurse on the picket line, Pamela Jones, told the PA news agency: “I’m striking today because I’ve been nursing for 32 years; within those 32 years the changes have been astronomical.

“The public need to understand the pressures that everyone’s under. You’ve only got to come into A&E and see the queues, there’s no beds.

“We want to save our NHS, we don’t want it to go, and I think this is the way forward, it’s the only way we can put our point across.

“We don’t want to be here. I was really torn about striking because it’s not something I’ve ever, ever thought in my lifetime I’d ever had to do, but yet the Government has pushed us to this.

“I hope the Government listens, because none of us want to be here, we just want a fair pay rise.”

Liverpool staff nurse Kelly Hopkins, 46, who has been a nurse for 25 years, said she felt “sad” when she went in to work.

She told PA: “I have connections with the food bank and there are more and more nurses using the food bank, which is just not acceptable.

“They’re coming in to work to care for other people and no-one’s caring for them.

“They’re having to use food banks, they’re coming in cold, they’re going without food to feed their children, it’s just crazy.”

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Members of the Royal College of Nursing on the picket line outside the Aintree University Hospital in Liverpool (Peter Powell/PA)

She said she was motivated to strike over safe staffing levels.

She said there are thousands of job vacancies across the NHS but it is struggling to attract new workers.

“The wards are understaffed, which is affecting patient care.

“I came into nursing to give good nursing care and we can’t give it because there’s not enough of it.

“Patients aren’t getting their teeth brushed, they’re lying in their own waste because there aren’t enough of us, we can’t split ourselves in two, especially on the wards.

“Unless we stand up and say something, it’s just going to get worse.”

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Drivers passing St Thomas’ Hospital in central London beeped their horns in support of striking nurses (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

On the picket line outside St Thomas’ Hospital in Westminster, central London, some drivers were showing support for striking staff by beeping their horns and cheering from car windows.

Linda Tovey, 49, a critical care nurse from Kent, who stood outside St Thomas’, told PA: “There is a huge amount of effort required to patch the holes in the nursing workforce, and part of the reason why so many people are leaving is the work is difficult because there aren’t enough of us, and the system is under so much stress.

“The money that you get paid doesn’t seem worth it. There are far easier ways to make a better living and we go home feeling guilty because we can’t do the job we were trained to do.

“It’s also increasingly difficult to come to work and go home and think ‘Actually, I don’t think I can turn the heating on’.

“My wages aren’t bad for a nurse but I still have to think about what I’m doing with my money every month and that is not the position I imagined myself being in.

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Mental health nurse Michael Rooney wears an RCN ‘The Voice of Nursing’ vest on the picket line outside Belfast City Hospital (Liam McBurney/PA)

“People do a huge amount of extra work, in terms of studying and all that kind of stuff, and you don’t get the recognition in terms of wages.

“My own particular circumstances mean I do just about have some money left at the end of the month but I still go home and think twice about turning a light on.

“I don’t cook food in my oven very often since I realised to cook one meal costs the same as it used to cost me for my electricity the whole day.”

Some nurses at St Thomas’ were wearing white RCN vests with the slogan “The Voice of Nursing”, while others clutched placards with messages such as “It’s time to pay nursing staff a fair wage”.

RCN chief executive Pat Cullen joined them and told members: “I want to thank you so much for what you are doing – you’re just amazing.”

Dozens of strikers picketing at Leeds General Infirmary (LGI) cheered as virtually every other vehicle which passed honked horns in support, including ambulances arriving at the A&E with their blue lights flashing.

Members of the public stopped to talk to the nurses with many bringing cakes and boxes of chocolates.

Rhian, who has worked as a nurse at the LGI for 24 years told PA: “People are coming in but a lot of people are leaving.

“There’s a mass exodus out of the NHS because of the pay and conditions and that has then got an impact on our patients.”

Elsewhere, nurse Emily Leitch from LGI said her ward has 28 patients and they should have four staff on rota during the day and three at night.

She told the BBC she can be the only member of staff on at night, perhaps alongside an agency nurse.