Around 150 nurses from the Morriston hospital in Swansea packed an angry union meeting last week, threatening to strike unless a swathe of job losses are reversed. Feelings are running so high that many felt that they should walk out immediately.
A programme of ward and bed closures at the hospital forced highly skilled nurses to apply for jobs outside their expertise, while others found that there are no jobs for them to go to.
“We are absolutely livid,” Unison union rep Libby Nolan told Socialist Worker.
“There are plastic surgery nurses here – who have a degree and a masters qualification, plus years of experience – who are having to apply for jobs on cardiac or orthopaedic wards. That is a complete waste of our skills.
“And there are many who cannot find any nursing work in Swansea at all – at a time when thousands of people are awaiting treatment.”
The outpouring of anger came just as Swansea health bosses announced plans to cut a further 750 jobs over the next three years through “natural wastage”. This is despite the fact that Swansea NHS had a budget surplus in the last financial year.
“‘Natural wastage’ means not replacing people who leave, retire, or who are sick” says Libby. “Many nurses are so depressed that they have been made ill by the current situation.
“Staff who were told two weeks ago that their ward was to close, are now being told that they have just a few days to choose a new ward to work on – one with a completely different specialism.
“That has led to the ridiculous situation of nurses coming onto orthopaedic wards, where people with bone injuries are treated, but who are not trained to put a patient in traction.”
Secretaries and clerical workers at the Morriston hospital have twice this summer walked out unofficially against poor working conditions – and on both occasions they have won significant concessions. That feeling of militancy is now spreading to other health workers.
Libby said, “Nurses at last week’s meeting were saying that we should follow the clerical workers and walk out, but our full time union official pleaded with us not to do that.
“We have decided to give management one last chance, but if, at our meeting with them this week, they refuse to back down, I think there will be a strike.
“Suddenly the mood here is very political and, following the meeting, many members of the Royal College of Nursing have decided to join Unison in the expectation of industrial action.
“Lots of people have started making connections between the resources that we are wasting in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the crisis in the NHS. The result is that there is a lot of anger with Labour.”
Health trade unionists in Swansea are now planning a public campaign with local activists, to put pressure on health bosses to reverse all their cuts.