NHS bosses in Manchester are set to waste thousands of pounds – money that ought to be spent on helping vulnerable people with mental health problems – on a consultant whose “mission” will be to investigate a leading trade unionist currently being disciplined by management.
Bosses at Manchester Mental Health and Social Care Trust have employed the services of Mental Health Strategies Ltd, who describe themselves as “executive coaches”, in their attempt to sack Karen Reissmann, a psychiatric nurse and activist in the Unison health workers’ union.
NHS consultants – who are typically paid between £300 and £1,000 each day – are a major beneficiary of the government’s NHS “reform” programme.
The attack on Karen escalated last week. She was summoned to a meeting with bosses where new charges were made against her.
Trust bosses renewed Karen’s suspension and – in a bizarre development – managers now insist that by telling people she is “innocent” of any breach of contract, Karen is now “guilty” of gross misconduct.
The initial moves to discipline Karen came after she gave an interview in which she explained why her union is opposed to voluntary sector “social enterprises” providing NHS services and why her branch has taken strike action to prevent such privatisations.
Karen’s case could provide an important precedent for all those committed to a publicly owned NHS and free speech for those speaking out against privatisation and cuts.
Barry White of the Campaign for Press and Broadcasting Freedom, and secretary of the London press and PR branch of the journalists’ NUJ union, told Socialist Worker, “This victimisation is a squalid attack on the public’s right to know.
“It is also an attack on the right of journalists to access information and report what is happening to our NHS. What Karen did was very much in the public interest.”
Karen is the chair of her Unison branch and a member of Unison’s national health executive.
It is vital that such a high profile activist receives the support of trade unionists across the country – particularly those in Manchester, where she has been based for more than 25 years.
The campaign to defend Karen is gathering pace. The north west region of Unison has agreed to her branch’s request to be balloted for strike action. Their report, which recommends substantial action, has now been forwarded to Unison’s national industrial action committee.
The mood among Karen’s workmates remains determined. Over 25 workers lobbied Karen’s meeting with management last week, despite receiving only three hour’s notice of it.
“People at work are as angry as they were on the day I was suspended,” Karen told Socialist Worker. “Over the last week there have been section meetings across the trust. People really want to strike, and they want to hit management hard.
“Management’s use of private consultants to aid their attempt to sack me has further enraged people. Most people think of them as leeches on the service.
“And far from keeping my head down, as management are demanding, I have been out showing solidarity with other workers who are fighting, and telling people about my case.
“I joined many from my branch on the postal workers’ picket lines. They were great and really supportive.
“Over the last week I’ve had messages of support from lots of trade unionists, including the London region of Amicus and Manchester trades council.
“The lecturers’ UCU union at Manchester Metropolitan University have also pledged their support for my case.”
This week Paul Abbott, the creator of the TV series Shameless, wrote to Karen to express his support, as did Stephen Brookes, the chair of the NUJ’s disabled members committee.
It is vital in the week ahead that campaigners secure the maximum possible support for Karen by taking the statement produced by Unison’s health executive, and getting prominent individuals and trade unionists to add their name to endorse it.
The atmosphere of anger that exists in Manchester must be harnessed so that Karen’s bosses – and their “executive coach” friends – are forced into a humiliating retreat.
Unison health exec releases statement backing Karen
Take this statement in support of Karen Reissmann from Unison’s health group executive and ask others to further endorse it:
Karen Reissmann, a leading trade union activist at Manchester Mental Health and Social Care Trust, has been suspended by her employer.
Karen is the Unison chair of the Manchester community and mental health branch and an elected member of the union’s national health group executive.
The health group executive is deeply concerned that Manchester Mental Health and Social Care Trust has taken this harsh measure against a respected nurse and trade union official. Furthermore we are alarmed about the manner in which the suspension was carried out.
Our representations will include questions regarding this and the applicability of policies and procedures which led to such actions. Unison will vigorously defend our members right to speak out without fear of persecution and we will ensure that Karen will be supported throughout this process and that her interests will be positively defended.
Lilian Macer, chair, Unison health group executive
Karen Jennings, national secretary, Unison health group executive