It is 8 years since NHS staff had a pay rise to match inflation, 8 years of pay not keeping up with prices, with hundreds of thousands of healthworkers becoming poorer as a result. Now most staff have been denied any pay rise this year or next, and to cap it all the government is demanding the Pay Review Body reduces unsocial hours payments next year.
These attacks are a kick in the teeth for staff who are working harder than ever to meet the growing demand for NHS services at a time that budgets are being cut; when NHS trusts can’t recruit staff and are relying on casual and agency staff to cover vacancies.
The assault on pay alone was enough to push many to support the call by 13 NHS unions to take strike actionon 24th November, but the deteriorating state of patient care and growing concern about the future of the NHS brought an added urgency and stronger support for the action.
Oxford Health Trust has written to all its employees to prepare them for changes after a review found that its finances posed a greater risk to its ability to continue to provide services in line with its Foundation Trust licence.
The trust, already one of the most efficient in the country, reported how it is treating 30% more people in Community Hospitals - a great boon to moving people on from general acute services. The trust reported improvements in patient safety, activity and outcomes of psychological therapies, plus extended services to cover evenings and weekends to support local health and social care work better.
The problem is that it has a forecast deficit of £4.2 million by April 2015. £1 million comes from work it isn’t being paid for and £1.7 million employing agency to fill gaps in staffing caused by poor retention and recruitment.
There is a growing hysteria around the so called “debate” about the impact immigration has on people in the UK. Despite all the evidence to the contrary, mainstream parties are united in claiming that immigration is a problem. UKIP has even gone so far as to talk about “repatriation” of European workers, and its persistent scapegoating of migrants has garnered support from the inhabitants of the political sewer, including ex-leader of the fascist BNP. Protesters challenging UKIP’s racism have had to face the nazi thugs of Britain First and the English Defence League who have turned up to “protect” UKIP meetings. Potential supporters of UKIP are now faced with the question about who poses the real problem - the overseas workers or the nazi thugs energised by UKIP’s racism.
The reality of racism
The reality of migrant workers is profoundly different from the image painted by racists of “benefit scroungers” - who are, contradictorily, “stealing our jobs”.
Alicja Plewczynska, a clinical support worker in a team helping people with treatment resistant depression, came to work in the UK from Poland 9 years ago. Alicja told The Organiser how European workers were first welcomed, but was now finding growing hostility. Alicja said “We were told we were needed to work, that without us the British economy would crash. I sold everything to come to live here to work and to buy a house — I didn’t want to claim any benefits.”
Nurses taking effective strike action without endangering patients is a lot easier than you might think!
The starting point is recognising there are normal times when staffing levels and activity are lower than the busiest times. Hospitals routinely expect staff to cover emergencies through the night on minimum staffing levels. On weekends and Bank Holidays activity levels drop to a minimum.
On the adult mental health admission ward where I work, all the Unison members (all but one of the non-medical staff) struck if they were on duty, or showed support by respecting and supporting the picket lines on 13th October and 24th November. This included the ward manager and modern matron! Nursing staff on other wards and in the community struck to leave a Christmas day service. No harm came to any patients in the core services that had to remain open.
There is a recipe for quality patient care. First take lots of people with a good basic education and give them a good training to meet the huge variation in needs they are likely to encounter in meeting the health needs of a population of 65 million people. Preferably do this for free so they don’t start work worrying about how they are going to pay off their debt - staff distracted with money worries haven’t got their mind fully on the job.
The Living wage is a key part of this year’s pay claim. We want it to apply to NHS staff and those employed by contractors and employment agencies. But this will not be won without leadership from low paid workers and strong community and political support. Oxford’s Labour City Council supports the Living Wage for its own workforce and requires contractors to pay it. They believe all local employers should pay it.
We organised a public meeting at Oxford Town Hall 18th November to begin to build a broad campaign
Speakers were (left to right below): Imran (UNISON Steward, John Radcliffe Hospital), Wendy Bond (member of Living Wage Commission), Councillor Van Coulter (Oxford City Council) and Roger McKenzie (UNISON Assistant General Secretary).