New year - same sorry health story – as the Government continues to push ahead with the Health and Social Care Bill, gambling with millions of patients’ health, even their lives, in the process.
And whilst all eyes are on Parliament, ahead of the crunch vote on the Bill this January, the NHS is being forced to continue its dangerous crash diet of cuts. Waiting lists are going up, non-emergency operations are being cancelled, and health workers are joining the growing dole queues.
For UNISON’s 450,000 health worker members, pensions will continue to be high on the list of priorities. Our senior health activists are meeting in early January to decide our next steps on the pensions framework. We believe this is the best offer we could achieve through negotiations – and it will be our health service executives decision to either reject, accept or to consult on the offer. Our strike – where 400,000 health workers took action for the first time in a generation, alongside millions of other trade unionists – got the government back round the table, negotiating seriously.
For many, 2011 was characterised by job cuts, the pay freeze, rising inflation and uncertainty
The strike was just one manifestation of a testing year for NHS workers. For many, 2011 was characterised by job cuts, the pay freeze, rising inflation and uncertainty because of the damaging changes in the Health and Social Care Bill and a lack of funds – despite the Tory’s pre-election pledge to increase NHS funding.
Staff morale had also been hit, and sadly only a quarter of nurses would now recommend joining their profession.
On Nurses Day, in May, we released a shocking survey of more that 2,000 nurses and midwives, that painted a bleak picture of life in the NHS since the Tories came to power. Three quarters of nursing staff said that the number of patients they have treated has gone up, at the same time as 60% reported a drop in staff numbers. This damaging scenario led to a shocking 64% reporting that safety and patient care is being undermined. Staff morale had also been hit, and sadly only a quarter of nurses would now recommend joining their profession.
To some degree the Bill acted as a smokescreen - while the parliamentary process went on, more than 56,058 jobs have been, or will be, axed.
To some degree the Bill acted as a smokescreen - while the parliamentary process went on, more than 56,058 jobs have been, or will be, axed. Staff that have held onto their jobs have had their pay frozen and terms and conditions cut. We estimate that with pay frozen until 2013 and limited to 1% a year until 2015, the value of nurses, paramedics and other NHS workers’ pay will have plummeted 16% by the time the cap ends.
Not only are trusts struggling to cope with demands for £20bn in so called "efficiency savings" – here read cuts – they are also facing huge PFI bills. The NHS is being milked mercilessly by private companies using tax havens to up their profits on these controversial PFI deals.
Health workers and many others campaigned against the Bill all year, anxious that it would be the end of our NHS as we know it. And patients too have their concerns. A poll by the NHS Support Federation revealed that two thirds of the public reject GPs taking control of £80bn of the NHS’s budget.
The NHS is being milked mercilessly by private companies using tax havens to up their profits on these controversial PFI deals.
The Bill has competition running right through it - and this is the Coalition Government’s ultimate goal. NHS Wirral became the first NHS Trust in England to recruit a private company to provide its maternity services. This is against the background of figures showing maternity deaths doubling due to under-staffing and high demand. Starving the NHS of the staff and the resources needed to provide the level of care needed, paves the way for private companies to come “to the rescue”.
The final defeat of proposals to limit the damaging impact of the Health and Social Care Bill in the House of Lords was a bitter disappointment
This is despite our warnings over the danger of recruiting unaccountable companies. The principle of ‘Any Qualified Provider’, brings with it dangers, as we have seen in other sectors, such as the bankruptcy of Southern Cross care homes, demonstrating the folly of such a free market approach.
These private companies are the real winners in the government’s plans for the NHS. The Bill removes the cap on the number of private patients that NHS hospitals are able to treat. With competition coming into the NHS, and budgets under severe financial strain, taking in more private patients is one way that hospitals will be able to boost their income.
The final defeat of proposals to limit the damaging impact of the Health and Social Care Bill in the House of Lords was a bitter disappointment and the future of the NHS - and the quality of care - currently remains uncertain.
The real winners will be private providers and private patients – and UNISON will continue to sound the alarm bells through 2012.
UNISON has always argued that the litmus test of any NHS reforms must be – will they benefit patients? And in this case, the clear answer is no. The real winners will be private providers and private patients – and UNISON will continue to sound the alarm bells through 2012.
Picture credit: Amanda Kendal