This week we saw some NHS staff going on strike for four hours; in the case of some staff for the first time in 30 years. Whilst I have sympathy with their actions I am concerned that NHS staff have been forced by the coalition government into this position. David Cameron has said publically he uses the NHS and would never do anything to harm it and yet he continues to allow the Health Secretary to ignore the reality of the situation.
Firstly, the Health Secretary says staff get a pay rise in their increments and that others do not get such increments. This is untrue: a number of private sector employers use increments to retain staff and reward those who improve their skills and knowledge.
Next, the Health Secretary says that a 1% rise for all nurses is not affordable and 4,000 nurses would have to be lost from the NHS to pay for this. Again untrue. The cost of a 1% rise would be approximately £750 million. The amount of the NHS under spend last year (2013-2014) was £2.2billion. This money was not used for patient care but to pay off the debts caused by the financial crash. A 2% pay raise for nurses would therefore be less that the amount of last year’s under spend and would show that as a nation we care for the people who day in and day out care for us.
Who under normal circumstances work more hours each week than they are paid for without complaining?
At the same time, the Health Secretary allowed NHS managers to give themselves pay raises in some cases of 30% on a salary of over £100,000.
Lastly, the Health Secretary says we would lose 4,000 nurses but the NHS is already 10,000 nursing staff below safe working levels, and managers are continually going abroad to recruit nurses, whilst British nurses are finding that they can earn more with less stress working in a local supermarket. Many of the overseas nurses return to their home country within 18 months because they are unhappy with the work conditions in the NHS.
Margaret Thatcher introduced private business into the NHS, John Major expanded it and Tony Blair continued privatisation with the Private Finance Initiatives (PFIs) which built new hospitals. One problem with the PFIs is the local hospital is never owned by the local community, the companies charge exorbitant management fees and make life for the estates staff impossible even to the point of not letting staff put up pictures or even clinical notices on walls. It has been estimated that some hospitals are paying almost double what it would have cost if they had taken out a mortgage and built it themselves and they still do not own the building.
Now, David Cameron wants to bring the TTIP (Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership) into the NHS and Social Care. This will only lead to more privatisation and an ever increase in the reduction in services free at the point of delivery paid for by taxation. Even Europe’s more capitalist country Germany is against the introduction of TTIP in health & social care. The 1946 NHS Act was designed by the then-Labour Government to provide all citizens of Great Britain with a health care service that was free at the point of delivery. This was to ensure that we never went back to the days where women and children died because they could not afford the doctor’s fee. In many families, the only person who saw the doctor was the man of the house because if he was ill and was not able to work there was no money coming in.
The NHS has become the best health service in the world. Nurses, doctors and other healthcare professionals come from all over the globe to see how it works and to learn from our high quality staff. This government want to privatise the NHS and the result will be a two-tier system, a system of healthcare from which no one in the world will want to learn.
A 2% pay rise is affordable. The NHS has shown this with the underspend and cost savings. Even if the government were to limit the 2% consolidated rise just to all the staff band 7 (or equivalent) and below that would show to the clinical staff; who care day in day out; that are being cared for by the government. At present, they are not.
The only way the government is going to listen is if the public start visibly siding with the nurses and reminding the politicians at all levels that the NHS is the world’s greatest health care system and is only so because of the excellent staff who work tirelessly to care for all of us.