Socialist Worker

NHS unions could ballot for strikes after pay insult

Issue No. 2765

Senior figures in the nurses RCN union are talking openly of industrial action

Senior figures in the nurses' RCN union are talking openly of industrial action (Pic: Guy Smallman)


The prospect of tens of thousands of health workers taking industrial action over pay took a step forward this week. Unions reacted furiously to the Tories’ measly 3 percent pay offer.

The unions’ anger reflects a huge wave of resentment among NHS workers who have struggled to hold the health service together through waves of coronavirus.

Leaders of the nurses’ RCN union, which had demanded a 12.5 percent rise, insisted “the profession will not take this lying down”.

They pointed to Treasury figures that expect inflation to rise to 3.7 percent over the next year. That would make the offer less than inflation—a real-terms pay cut.

The RCN organised an online mass meeting to explain how the offer will cut experienced nurses’ pay by over £200 in real terms.

The union is now asking members what action they would like to take in response.

Many senior figures talk openly about industrial action and tell union reps to make sure all members’ records are up to date in readiness for a ballot.

Unison, Britain’s biggest health union, is also talking up the prospects of action.

It announced on Monday that it will ballot its members over the offer which falls well short of the £2,000 a year increase it had demanded.

Union leaders will tell members that the offer is “not acceptable” and ask them whether they are prepared to take “lawful industrial action up to and including strike action”.

This stance is not an outright rejection. But it is one of the strongest positions against an NHS pay offer that Unison has taken—and activists must grasp the opportunity it represents.

Opened

One long-standing nurse and union activist told Socialist Worker that Unison had “opened the door” and that everyone who wants better pay should take advantage of that.

“We need to follow the RCN and organise a mass online meeting for all Unison members in health.

“That would show how serious we are about this fight—and could offer a chance to people to express their anger at everything that people are experiencing at work.

“Health workers are at their wits ends. People are stressed out, frustrated and demoralised by what’s happened to their lives, their colleagues and friends—and the danger that understaffing poses to our patients.

“A serious fight over pay could tap into that and turn it into anger.”

Unison branches should also raise their game by organising online mass meetings for all workers. These can explain how badly the ­government’s offer fails—and show how workers can fight back.

These initiatives must be backed by banner drops, leafleting events, ward rounds, mass postering and a huge social media campaign.

All of this can create an atmosphere for action—asnd make a strike ballot in the autumn a real possibility.

The Tories are on the defensive on every aspect of the NHS crisis. A strike for pay would galvanise the huge public support that health workers have.

We must not waste this chance to punish the government.


‘People want to fight back,’ say health workers at online rally

Over 100 health workers and their supporters joined an online rally of rank and file activists last week to help plan the battle for decent pay.

Organised by the group “NHS Workers Say No,” the meeting was chaired by long-standing Unison activist Karen Reissmann.

Everyone who joined was united in fury at the 3 percent pay offer and wanted to see unions taking action to win a pay rise of no less than 15 percent.

Libby, a nurse in Wales, told the meeting that there was a mood for action.

She said, “I recruited three more reps to Unison yesterday. It’s uplifting to see people wanting to fight back.

“We have to fight and win this ballot for a fair pay rise across the NHS.”

Intensive care nurse Dave agreed saying, “Everyone is absolutely furious.

The mood amongst health workers is angry, we can mobilise on that and force the government to backtrack.” The meeting also heard from MPs and trade unionists who all offered their support and solidarity.

Tories’ last minute pay offer is another insult to NHS workers
Tories’ last minute pay offer is another insult to NHS workers
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Leicester MP Claudia Webbe told the meeting, “3 percent is grossly inadequate and shows the government’s hypocrisy.

“It doesn’t matter how many Tories clapped for the NHS if they don’t pay health workers fairly.

“The NHS is facing a staffing crisis which is not helped by this or by the government scrapping the nursing bursary that encouraged people into the health service. We can’t live in a society where health workers are underpaid and undervalued. We must fight against privatisation and for a 15 percent pay rise.”

The meeting ended by planning a central London demonstration in Downing Street set for Friday of this week.

That a rank and file meeting can draw over 100 activists at short notice at the height of summer shows there is a real thirst for activity.

It shows the potential to pull together groups of health workers at every hospital and NHS workplace.

These networks can then start organising action over the pay claim and force even the slowest union branches to raise their game.

That in turn will apply more pressure on the national unions to throw themselves into the battle.

Only serious strikes involving tens of thousands of health workers will beat the Tories.

Join the health workers’ protest in central London on Friday 30 July, 5pm at University College Hospital, NW1 2BU for a march to Downing Street.

Wards, ambulances and trusts at breaking point

A “perfect storm” of Covid hospitalisations, high infection rates and massive demand for accident and emergency services is pushing the NHS to breaking point.

Years of underfunding meant the health service limped from crisis to crisis in the time before the pandemic.

Now, with Covid admissions rising by 30 percent over the last week, new dedicated wards have been reopened across the country. And more operations are being cancelled.

Newcastle upon Tyne Hospitals boss Jackie Daniel told staff last week they had been hit by a “perfect storm.” This is a combination of “high numbers of Covid patients in hospital, high Covid infections in the community, which is affecting staff and our families, unprecedented levels of urgent and emergency demand and peak holiday season, all of which comes after 18 months of exhausting work.”

There were over 5,000 Covid-positive patients in hospital in Britain at the beginning of this week. That’s a level not seen since March.

Some 699 patients are being ventilated, and many of them are in intensive care.

One intensive care unit nurse in South Yorkshire reported having 16 patients in ICU. It was a seven-bed unit before the pandemic. “It feels like the government and most of the media have just thrown us to the wolves and are sticking their fingers in their ears shouting ‘the NHS will cope’,” they said.

The crisis is particularly sharp in ambulance services where some people are now waiting ten minutes before their emergency call is answered.

During that time no one in the service knows whether the patient is in desperate need of care.

Leaked data from West Midlands Ambulance Service showed that last week some patients had waited as long as 29 hours for an ambulance.


Flooding reveals weakness

A sign of how precariously balanced the NHS is came during flooding in east London this week.

Around 100 patients from Whipps Cross hospital in east London had to be evacuated after a power outage during heavy rain.

All planned surgery and appointments had to be cancelled as staff battled to transfer patients to nearby hospitals.

Desperate bosses were forced to call in extra staff. But with nearby roads littered with abandoned vehicles, it was difficult for workers to make it to the hospital.Ambulances had to be diverted.

But the nearest hospital, Newham General, was also forced to close its A&E and maternity units because of the effects of flooding. That major hospitals can be forced to close by a large downpour is itself a scandal.

We are paying the price for years of underinvestment and failed hospital building programmes.


Data sold on to Big Pharma

Department of Health bosses are continuing to sell patient data even after plans for a new commercial database were further delayed last month.

More than 40 companies, including the world’s largest management consultancies and Big Pharma groups, have received detailed medical records from English hospitals.

Opioids in the US - a crisis prescribed by profit
Opioids in the US - a crisis prescribed by profit
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NHS datasets that list patients who have been admitted, their diagnosis and treatment have been sold on during the past five years.

The information includes details of patients’ mental and sexual health.

Sensitive data has also been shared with 43 different commercial organisations, including widely-hated management consultants McKinsey, and drugs firms Novavax and AstraZeneca. The credit referencing agency Experian has also been sticking its nose in.

IQVIA, a little-known US data company, is one firm that has bought NHS data.

It was co-founded by drug mogul Arthur Sackler—whose family was responsible for the worldwide distribution of OxyContin.

That drug played a major role in the opioid crisis in the US.


Tories push NHS to brink

The NHS is on the brink of disaster—and the Tories are to blame.

Boris Johnson’s reckless ­relaxation of Covid restrictions has led once again to thousands of patients with coronavirus ­filling hospital wards.

The sickest are in intensive care, where over 750 patients are reliant on ventilation machines.

Meanwhile, at home over five­million people are waiting ­desperately for operations that may never come.

Many are forced to live in pain because years of cuts mean the health service can no longer cope.

Battle-scarred and shell‑shocked NHS staff struggle daily to hold the system together.

Yet their efforts are rewarded with a pay rise so low that some will be hundreds of pounds worse off after a year of receiving it.

Linda, a mental health nurse in Glasgow, knows all this only too well. She has been drafted into hospitals at weekends to provide additional support to worn out workers.

“It’s been tough. It’s been exhausting and often makes you wonder if this will ever stop,” she told Socialist Worker.

“This isn’t just about the ­pandemic overwhelming the NHS. Understaffing is the main issue.

“And we’ve been understaffed for a decade. It looks like it will continue for another decade.”

For Linda and thousands more, unions’ talk of a fight over pay could not come a minute too soon.


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