To the Tories the NHS and hospitals are a photo opportunity

Christina McAnea

It is not surprising that the NHS was high on the agenda at our conference this week. For members working in the health service and for all those who rely on it, the Health and Social Care Act threatens the NHS to its core. That is why Dave Prentis said in his keynote speech that the fight against it not over, it has only just begun.

To the Tories the NHS and hospitals are a photo opportunity. Cameron and Lansley pictured standing next to some nurses or showing ‘compassion’ to some poor patient trying to get some rest. The very same nurses who have not had a pay rise, because the Government has frozen their wages for two years. The same patients who are being made to wait longer for treatment because of Government demands that hospitals make £20bn in so called “efficiency savings”. The same hospitals that are being made vulnerable to takeover by private companies, because of the Government’s health bill.

That is why the Tories can never be trusted with our NHS. When you look at their agenda for the future of our health services, privatisation runs all the way through it. And there are always private companies waiting in the wings ready to cash in on any opportunities. That is why TV ads for private treatment are mushrooming. They know that when waiting lists get longer, their profit potential goes up.

One of the most damaging elements to the Bill is the removal of the cap on the number of private patients that hospitals can treat. When hospital finances are so squeezed, prioritising the more lucrative private patients will be a real temptation and NHS patients will find themselves at the end of a very long queue. Just as alarming, NHS patients may find that certain “specialist” hospitals may be so oversubscribed they will have no chance of getting treated there.

For staff the impact of the Government’s policies on the NHS are massive. The pay freeze has an obvious impact on them and their families and on morale. And what distresses many is the fact that the cuts mean they are unable to provide the high standard of quality care that patients should expect and demand.

Many thousands of health staff from across the South West also face a new threat to their pay and conditions from the proposed setting up of a pay cartel consisting of 18 hospital trusts.

I was pleased to go from Conference to Poole Hospital Foundation Trust with moer than 200 health workers and supporters, we went to that hospital because the Chief Executive of Poole Hospital Trust, Chris Bown, is a key player in the cartel, the chair of the cartel steering group, as well as holding its finance. We went to send a clear message that the pay cartel would de-stabalise healthcare across the region and damage patient care.

The setting up of this pay cartel is a crude attempt to drive down wages, which in turn will damage the quality of patient care in all eighteen trusts. Nurses, healthcare assistants, porters, cleaners, occupational therapists – all health staff deserve better – so do patients. The cartel will lead to shortages of key staff who will vote with their feet and move to hospitals where the pay is better and patients across the region will be the ones who suffer.

Not only that, the move also threatens the future of on-going national negotiations on changes to Agenda for Change – the NHS pay bargaining system. Agenda for Change took many years to develop and introduce and crucially ensured equal pay across the whole of the NHS. We do not want rogue employers threatening to undermine the stability that national pay bargaining brings to the health service, to patients and staff.

Christina McAnea is the Head of Health at Unison. This post forms part of our coverage of Unison Conference 2012.

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