Socialist Worker

NHS staff furious at Hunt’s wage blackmail

by Sarah Ensor
Issue No. 2374

Health workers protesting at the Tory Party conference last month

Health workers protesting at the Tory Party conference last month (Pic: Guy Smallman)


Tory health minister Jeremy Hunt wants to cancel the measly 1 percent pay rise that NHS workers were scheduled to get next April. This is yet another pay cut in real terms. The planned rise would already have been below inflation. It follows a below-inflation 1 percent rise this year and a two-year pay freeze before that.

That will mean that health workers will have had their pay docked by almost 11 percent in real terms under this government. That’s before counting local attacks such as the “downbanding” of senior staff to lower pay grades. 

One ambulance worker described going on shift after the announcements. She said, “People at my work are livid. We’ve had all sorts of attacks on our pay and conditions and now this—it’s a massive insult.”

Workers are outraged not just by the scale of the attack, but also by the lie Hunt used to justify it. He claimed that patient care would suffer if workers got even their small rise. Hunt has also blamed incremental pay—the small annual increases that reflect a worker’s experience and training—for pressure on NHS budgets.

Inflation

But the real culprits are cuts, staff shortages, constant reorganisation and privatisation—not wages that don’t even keep up with inflation. Over four years of pay cuts in real terms, the pressure on health services has only got worse.

Beds and wards have been cut so that A&Es are more crowded than ever before. Thousands of operations have had to be cancelled. Despite prime minister David Cameron’s promise to protect the NHS the Tories have cut billions and sold off hundreds of health services since they took office in 2010.

Karen Reissmann, a mental health nurse in Manchester on the Unison union’s national executive, said in a personal capacity, “We have had enough and we will not take another year of NHS cuts or pay cuts. 

“We did not choose this fight. But if Jeremy Hunt wants a fight then there are thousands of health workers prepared to defend the health service and health workers’ pay.” Health workers planned protests this week including in Oxfordshire, and in east London where there are also massive cuts planned to pay off PFI debts to private firms at Barts Health Trust (see below).

Workers in the Unite, Unison and GMB workers defeated 21 NHS employers in the south west of England who had formed a cartel to smash national NHS pay agreements last year. “We had a local pay cartel and now Hunt is trying to make it national,” said Gwyneth Powell-Davies, vice chair of Unite’s Bristol health branch. “This is the government saying they can do anything they like. But we saw them off once and we should do it again.”


‘Our services are being demolished’

By a health visitor in Tower Hamlets

NHS bosses are attacking Community Health Services in Tower Hamlets, east London. Senior nurses are being cut and 40 experienced admin staff will have to compete for a smaller number of worse paid jobs. Those who don’t get a job will be sacked without any redundancy package. 

Removing these workers will mean nurses have to do even more admin. As it is I feel like I’m nursing the filing cabinet. Community health services (CHS) save lives. They include home visits to women suffering domestic violence, and health checks on babies and children.

But management at Barts Health NHS Trust are preparing to sell off Tower Hamlets CHS, because of the £2 million a week it pays to service the debt on the Private Finance Iniative that rebuilt Barts and the Royal London Hospitals.

All staff are already expected to buy their own stationery and pay all their travel costs. This is on top of unpaid overtime working through breaks, late and from home at weekends. Senior managers are on at least £70,000 a year and none of them are taking pay cuts. But the demolition of CHS is dangerous to patients.


Regulator wants more cuts

NHS regulator Monitor proposed to slash an incredible extra £500 million off hospital funding in England for 2014-15 last week. This is on top of the £1 billion cut already planned. It also said there will be no more money for overstretched A&Es.

These cuts are designed to help privatisation. Monitor wants to make hospitals cut services that can then be offered to private companies. But the report by Robert Francis QC into poor care and high death rates at Stafford Hospital squarely blamed staff cuts and poor management. If these cuts go through such disasters can happen again in hospitals across England.


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