Bristol Politics, NHS, Trade Unions and Industrial Disputes

Full #SolidariTea to the #JuniorDoctors

This April Junior Doctors and the BMA are set to continue to escalate their resistance to Jeremy Hunt and the government’s plans to impose new contracts that have been universally panned as being both Not Safe and Not Fair.

These new contracts remove financial penalties for NHS trusts that place Junior Doctors on ‘fatiguing’ shift patterns (and are thus liable to enable unsafe working conditions – tired doctors make mistakes); and unfairly attack Junior Doctor’s pay be reclassifying an additional 50% of currently unsocial hours as part of the standard working week.

BRI picket

Junior Doctor’s and their supporters – led by Kitty Thompson and her ‘Tired Doctors Make Misstakes placard’ picketing outside the BRI 10/3/2016

On top of this, the new contract seem geared to accelerate privatisation.  Unsocial hours payments are often cited by private healthcare firms as a ‘barrier’ to their taking over of staff and contracts for some services, removing them will act as a catalyst for the outsourcing of both.

Furthermore, as Dr Lauren Gavaghan recently eloquently explained on LBC (in a video watched by more than 1,000,000 people), expanding work on the weekends isn’t about increasing emergency care (as junior doctors and all NHS staff – myself included – already provide that) but introducing elective non-urgent clinical work into weekends.  This is the work that private companies love to take on as they cherry pick the most profitable services from our NHS to maximise their money making; and thus these contracts will help increase the amount of services liable for private healthcare profiteering.

For all these reasons and more we must support the Junior Doctors when they return to picket lines in coming weeks.

Soldiaritea bri

Greens including Tony Dyer – candidate for Mayor, Carla Denyer – Councillor for Clifton East – and me supporting the BRI picket 9/03/2016

The next strike dates are from 8am on the 6th till 8 am on the 8th of April, and then again from 8am till 5pm on 26th and 27th of April.

This second strike will be all out – for the first ever time junior doctors will not provide emergency care (which will instead be covered by consultants).

The government is currently imploding over divisions on the impending EU referendum and the intensification of austerity measures in the recent budget.  The escalation by the BMA will put the government under intense pressure (as well as shining a spotlight on the Tory’s gradual assault on our NHS), and in this context could well succeed in forcing another humiliating climbdown.

Tory’s know this, and it is no doubt for this reason that the Tory press has intensified its vilification of junior doctors and the supposedly ‘militant’ BMA.  According to reports, junior doctors are being nakedly politically, are only interested in the money, are killing patients with their ‘irresponsible’ striking and should all be fired anyway (according to the Sun).

bri day 1

Greens at the BRI picket 09/03/2016

Despite the best efforts of the Torys (and much slander and misinformation particularly from Jeremy Hunt) and their allies in the media, the Junior Doctors remain overwhelmingly popular with the public.  Both the Tories and their press are trying to drive a wedge between striking Junior Doctors and the public (and are going to try to use this latest escalation as a means to discredit them).  Attacks on Junior Doctors and the BMA are only going to intensify as the month draws on.

To defend against these attacks, and support our Junior Doctors (striking can be a hard and dispiriting course of action at the best of time, let alone with the attacks in the press) we must stand shoulder to shoulder with them on the picket lines as they fight to not only protect themselves, but also patient and our entire health service.  The government has suffered a series of setbacks and is looking increasingly weak.  Now is the time to escalate our resistance, to link up our struggles, and to fight back against their agenda of cuts and privatisation.

Once again Bristol Greens will be taking to picket lines across the city to provide SolidariTea (and SolidariCoffee) and practical support.  We call on all trade unionist and progressives in our city to do the same.  If we all come together to support the Junior Doctors they can win.  This would both protect vitally important staff (who are already over worked and under paid) and be a signal victory in the fight against NHS privatisation.  It could also significantly contribute to the toppling of this government.

SolidariTea part 2, smaller

Me providing hot cups of SolidariTea and SolidariCoffee to the BRI picket 10/03/2016

 

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NHS, Trade Unions and Industrial Disputes

#NHS execs speak out against #TUBill #KillTheBill

At my UNISON branch meeting this month we were discussing the impact of the end of ‘DOCAS/Check-off’ (the process of taking trade union subscription fees directly from wages) on our local union membership.

Afterwards our secretary forwarded me this email of 32 NHS directors and executives emailing government minister Matthew Hancock outlining their support for the current arraingments.

The more alarming parts of the bill like enforced arm bands for picketers (or massive fines), and (the now scrapped) clause to force trade unions to send all their facebook and twitter messages during a dispute to the police two weeks in advance, and the hugely undemocratic voting thresholds have understandably taken most of the focus when its discussed.

But (as well as the attacks on facility time and the legal obsticles it places at every level of organising) it is the financial aspects of the bill that will probably have the biggest day to day impact on our unions.  This bill also seriously hamstrings the ways unions are funded (and their ability to fund opposition to the Conservatives).  As such I thought it was worth reprinting the NHS directors letter out in full below.

As it shows these changes are not only completely unneccessary but are also against the wishes of employers who get tangible benefits from the current payment system, and recognise this nakedly political assault on unions ability to organise will have negative ramifications for working relations.

The bill may have passed through the commons, but it has not become law yet.  We need to lobby and put pressure on the Lords and the Government to try and stop as much of this bill as possible.  And if it does make it to law, we need to do what we can to circumvent it.  Unjust laws must be opposed.

Over the week of 8th to 14th of Feburary the TUC is organising a national week of action against the bill.  Find out whats going on in your area or organise something yourself through your union and trades council and get involved.  Together we can beat this.
https://www.tuc.org.uk/union-issues/trade-union-bill/heartunions-week-8-14-february-2016

Concord Health UNISON branch officer Mandy Robinson takes to the mike against the TU Bill, with me and Green comrades in the background.  November 2015

Concord Health UNISON branch officer Mandy Robinson takes to the mike against the TU Bill, with me and Green comrades in the background. November 2015

 

7th October, 2015

 

 

The Rt. Hon. Matthew Hancock, MP,

Minister for the Cabinet Office

   & Paymaster General,

Cabinet Office,

70 Whitehall,
London, SW1A 2AS

 

Also by email to: matthew.hancock.mp@parliament.uk

 

 

 

Dear Sir,

 

Public Sector Check-Off

 

We write as a group of public sector HR Directors in relation to the recent announcement about deducting trade union subscriptions through salaries.

 

You will appreciate these are challenging times across the public sector with significant challenges ahead and this will involve significant consultation and negotiation with trade unions.  We have worked with trade unions over the last few years often in partnership arrangements both locally and nationally (such as the National Social Partnership Forum in Health) to bring about change.  These discussions require good will and transparency on both sides.  Although we understand the government will want to explore all elements of cost avoidance (as we do), we want to highlight the cost savings we achieve through effective consultation and communication with and through trade unions.  It is also helpful for us to easily understand our union density, particularly when we work with multiple trade unions.

 

We believe the announcement on deductions will challenge and change relationships and the partnership approach many of us have worked to develop and ask that you consult extensively with employers about the potential impact before taking a final decision.

 

Effective relationships with trade unions will help us expedite the changes we need to make in ways that minimise the disruption to patients and service users.

 

Yours faithfully,

Dean Royles,
Director of Human Resources and Organisational Development,
Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust

 

Anita Pisani,
Deputy Chief Executive and Director of Workforce and Service Re-Design,
Cambridgeshire Community Services NHS Trust

 

Susan Tyler,
Director of Workforce Development,
Leeds and York Partnership NHS Trust

 

Marie Fosh,
Director of Workforce & Transformation,
Lincolnshire Community Health Services NHS Trust

 

Ros Edwards,
Director of HR and OD,
The Royal Liverpool and Broadgreen University Hospitals

 

Amanda Oates,
Executive Director of Workforce,
Merseycare NHS Trust

 

Jon Restell,
Chief Executive,
Managers in Partnership (MiP)

 

Bernard Scully,
Director of Human Resources,
Mid-Essex Hospital

 

Jeff Crawshaw,
Director of Human Resources and Organisational Development,
Colchester Hospital

 

Ruth McAll,
Interim Director of Human Resources,
East of England Ambulance Service

 

Ian Crich,
Director of Human Resources and Organisational Development,
Peterborough and Stamford Hospitals NHS Trust

 

Ann McIntyre,
Director of Workforce and Organisational Development,
Guy’s and St. Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust

 

Jon Lenney,
Director of Workforce and Organisational Development,
Pennine Acute Hospitals NHS Trust

 

Tracy Hill,
Director of Human Resources and Organisational Development,
5 Boroughs Partnership NHS Foundation Trust

Isobel Clements,
Director of People,
Taunton and Somerset NHS Trust

Mark Appleby,
Director of Human Resources,
Yeovil NHS Trust

 

Tracey Cottam,
Director of Transformation and Organisational Development,
Royal Devon and Exeter NHS Foundation Trust

 

Colin Hague,
Director of Human Resources,
Dorset Healthcare University NHS Foundation Trust

 

Carol Sparks,
Director of Organisational Development and Human Resources,
2gether NHS Foundation Trust

 

Jenny Turton,
Head of Human Resources,
Avon and Wiltshire Mental Health Partnership NHS Trust

 

Darran Armitage,
Interim Director of Workforce and Organisational Development,
Devon Partnership NHS Trust

 

Mark Warner,
Director of Human Resources and Organisational Development,
Dorset County Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust

 

Tina Ricketts,
Director of Human Resources,
Gloucestershire Care Services NHS Foundation Trust

 

Dave Smith,
Director of Human Resources and Organisational Development,
Gloucestershire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust

 

Oonagh Fitzgerald,
Director of Workforce and Education,
Great Western Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust

 

Paul Jones,
Interim Director of Human Resources,
North Bristol NHS Trust

 

Darryn Allcorn,
Director of Human Resources,
Northern Devon Healthcare NHS Trust

 

Martin Bamber,
Deputy Director of Human Resources,
Plymouth Hospitals NHS Trust

 

Charles Summers,
Director of Engagement and Development,
NHS Dorset CCG

 

Marianne King,
Head of Human Resources and Organisational Development,
NHS Somerset CCG

 

Martin Ringrose,
Director of Workforce and Organisational Development,
South Devon Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust

 

Emma Wood,
Director of Human Resources and Organisational Development,
South Western Ambulance Services NHS Foundation Trust

 

Sheridan Flavin,
Director of Human Resources,
Weston Area NHS Trust

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Bristol Politics, NHS

EmmersonsGreen ‘ISTC’ highlights the perils of NHS Privatisation in Bristol

In February 64 Bristol GPs signed an open letter to the Bristol ‘Clinical Commissioning Groups’ (CCG – responsible for commissioning services to providers and administering the tendering process to the private sector) highlighting the shocking wastage of money represented by the Emersons Green ‘Independent Sector Treatment Centre’ (ISTC).  There letter – available here – compellingly highlights many of the problems creeping privatisation by stealth is introducing into our NHS.  Hopefully their letter and their campaigning and the campaigns of activist groups like Protect our NHS (who have helped organised the letter) can help generate interest in both this individual case of the perils of privatisation; and the wider place of health care in our society.

Reforms over the past few decades, greatly exacerbated by the 2012 Health and Social Care act, have been slowly but surely introducing a marketised health care model into our NHS.  Greens (and many others who care about our NHS) believe this model not only fails on its own terms of reducing cost and increasing efficiency (in fact doing the opposite) but also reduces standards of care, working conditions of staff, and has reprehensible moral implications.

From our conversations with health workers we repeatedly hear that Emersons Green ISTC does not provide as good care as the NHS centres, yet (as scandalously highlighted by the loss of £7 million over the last three years) the NHS has to pay Care UK regardless of the actual treatment it provides.  This puts GPs in the unenviable position of having to either refer patients to the Emersons Green ISTC to receive poorer service, or to effectively waste NHS money by sending them for treatment elsewhere.

This local wastage of NHS money provides a microcosm for the wider problems across the country.  We currently waste billions of pounds every year artificially forcing our health service to function as a fragmented market.  Recent studies have found the NHS to provide the best value for money service in the world.  The USA spends roughly 1/3 of its entire health spending on administration costs, whilst spending twice as much as the UK per capital on health for much worse results.  Yet this is the very model our leaders seem to be emulating.

In 1980 before Thatcher first introduced an internal market into the NHS, administration costs were around 5%.  Since then the main inflationary pressures to providing health care should have been the cost of pharmaceuticals and medical equipment, yet administration costs have now risen to over 15% of the total budget.  Much of this is down to the extremely time consuming and expensive bidding system for service contracts and the purchases provider split.  The government doesn’t collect reliable statistics for the costs of these measures, but it is estimated to cost around at least £10 billion a year.  This is a colossal wastage of funds that should be going to providing health care, before even taking into consideration the profit that private providers extract for running services.  Finally the hugely inefficient PFI deals pioneered by the Blair government and continued by the current coalition critically undermines NHS budgets to finance servicing debt repayments frequently far out of all proportion to the value of their investment.

As highlighted by the GPs letter, staff working for private providers are often unknown to NHS staff, and not fully integrated into local health care networks.  This adds unnecessary confusion and communication problems that lower potential healthcare outcomes.  In general wherever the private sector has been given a greater role in providing services, standards of care are depressed.  The flagship example of Hinchingbrooke hospital which was until recently completely run by the private company Circle Health is a case in point.  Quality of care, hygiene standards and patient safety were all compromised in the interests of profit.  The care quality commission (CQC) gave Hinchingbrooke the inspectorate’s worst ever rating for “caring”, and found it “inadequate” (the worst rating) for safety and leadership.  Circle have since pulled out of the contract, leaving the hospital under special measures.  We cannot let this happen elsewhere!

Locally Greens will be campaigning for the NHS to provide services to Emmersons Green and all health services except in extremely exceptional circumstances.  We hope the GPs letter and campaign will help pressure the Bristol CCG into making this a reality.  This will only happen if more and more people join with campaigns resisting privatisation like Protect OUR NHS (and political party’s committed to doing the same like the Green Party).  Nationally we aim to restore the ‘duty to provide’ healthcare by the Secretary of State for Health (removed in 2012); to ensure the NHS remains a unified public service; and to remove the internal market and private sector involvement that so blights the service.  To this end we are fully supporting Dr Allyson Pollocks’ NHS Reinstatement Bill that does just that and more to return the NHS to its founding principles and ensure our society has the health service it deserves.  On top of this we must ensure the NHS is given adequate funding to provide the service so many of us depend on, and has enough staff to meet its need.  We are committing to provide an extra £12bn of core funding every year to the NHS, to support and restore services and pay, improve mental health care, and make vital updates and improvements.

This extra money would be funded through progressive general taxation.  As already noted though we could save billions by remove ideological vanity projects that artificially force the NHS to run as a fragmented part-privatised service.  Greens seek to reduce the overall cost of healthcare not by simply treating the symptoms of ill health in individuals, but their causes among society at large – chiefly inequality and poor environments.

To reiterate the words of the much quoted founder of the NHS Aneurin Bevan: ‘The NHS will last as long as their are folk left with the faith to fight for it’.  Our NHS is being undermined and sold off by politicians who frequently are directly financially benefiting by its privatisation, to give greater profits to private companies (usually owned by their supporters and peers).  We need to go out there and fight for it.  Join campaigns against privatisation, and this May the 7th, use your vote for the NHS.

Some Bristol Green Party supporters at the People's March for the NHS

Some Bristol Green Party supporters at the People’s March for the NHS

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Green Politics

My Green alternative platform for Hengrove

So that the people of Hengrove at least have the ability to vote for the Green Party should they want to, I’ve agreed to be the candidate in the coming local council elections.  Unfortunately in the past support for the Greens within Hengrove hasn’t been very strong, and as the Green Party is supported primarily through contributions from its members it sadly doesn’t have the resources to campaign hard in every ward.  I’d love to be able to go and try and speak to every resident and directly make the case for the Green alternative to the austerity business as usual politics of the establishment parties face to face, but we’re just not able to.  So instead I thought I should at least outline my core politics here so that if any Hengrove residents want to know about their local candidates and manage to find this site they can see what their Green option is offering them.

Obviously there are many many ways the council intersects with the lives of Bristolians, and many important issues that I would campaign on and attempt to address if elected.  To stop this post being too long I’m going to concentrate on four key areas that I personally think are going to be vitally important for any elected councillors to deal with.  The Bristol Green Party has a whole host of policies to deal with local issues, which I would broadly follow (as well as consulting with my constituents) to help me make these decisions and attempt to make a difference for local residents. 

Cuts and the economy

Some of the 50,000 people who marched through London 21/06/2014 Demanding the alternative to cuts and austerity

Some of the 50,000 people who marched through London 21/06/2014 Demanding the alternative to cuts and austerity

Cuts to public services and in particular the savage cuts to council budget are transforming the nature of both our welfare state and our local government. Regardless of which of the main parties forms the next government were going to be forced to endure another £30 billion of cuts by 2017.

Aside from their odious social impact cuts are flawed economically. Most economists agree that cuts have held back economic growth. On top of this austerity has greatly depressed wages, and with them tax returns. That is why the government has consistently missed its own targets; and why they have only cut the deficit by a third in numeric terms (a half as expressed as a percentage of GDP) when they said they would have eliminate it by now.

Services have already been cut to the bone.  Where this next round of devastating cuts will fall, and attempts to resist them will dominate the political landscape of the next few years.

We need our local politicians and our local communities, their organisations, trade unions, charities and campaigners all to work together if we are to have any hope of resisting. If elected I promise to fight for the people of Hengrove and Bristol and try to use the limited powers of local government to get a fairer deal for local residents.

I would never vote for ‘austerity’ council budgets and would instead press the council to demand a fairer alternative. I would use my position to amplify the voices of local residents and of campaigns and resistance to austerity and its social ills. This is work I already do as a volunteer organiser for the Bristol People’s Assembly, and as the Bristol Green Party Trade Union Liaison Officer. I would make this, and directly representing my constituents, central to my work on the council.

I would campaign for the Living Wage to be adopted across the city.

I would campaign to make council tax fairer and less regressive. 

I would campaign for the council to (like more than 60 other councils across the UK) call for the implementation of a ‘Robin Hood’ or Financial Transaction Tax (a tiny tax of about 0.05% on transactions made by banks, hedge funds and the financial sector) and any other progressive measures councils can promote to rebalance our economy in the interests of ordinary people.

The NHS and Public Services

Our public services, the people who provide them, and the people who depend on them are all being attacked to pay for the bailout of the banks.  The NHS in particular has been undermined by privatisation and being artificially run as a fragmented market system. Staff have had their wages depressed, and pensions attacked, whilst there are 35,000 less of them (and 10,000 less hospital beds) then in 2010 treating ever growing numbers of patients.

Everywhere there are campaigns attempting to resist these cuts and privatisation.  Last year I was proud to go on strike with my union and colleagues to fight for fair pay.  Just as important as anger over poverty pay was staff anger over creeping privatisation. I was privileged again this year to join the People’s March for the NHS in Bristol. Everywhere there is great anger among staff, patients and our wider communities as people see the damage being done to our health service.  We need to unite these campaigns if they are to be effective. And we need our representatives in local government to join us.  This is as true for the NHS as it is for any and all of our public services.

William Quick TULO, Tony Dyer Bristol South Parliamentary Candidate, and Deb Joffe Windmill hill ward candidate supporting the picket

William Quick TULO, Tony Dyer Bristol South Parliamentary Candidate, and Deb Joffe Windmill hill ward candidate supporting the picket

If I elected I will press the council to campaign for all local NHS services to be provided by the NHS and not the private sector. I will support all campaigns for fair pay for staff and all efforts to resist privatisation. In particular local campaigns to support the NHS reinstatement bill which is gaining support from across the political spectrum.  I will also fight to ensure all other public services, remain public, and be active in local campaigns to restore public ownership to public transport, energy and communications.

Housing

We’re facing a housing crisis in Britain, and particularly in Bristol. Short sighted housing policy (particularly right to buy which has reduced Bristol’s nearly 50,000 council homes of the 1970s to less than 30,000 today) and a lack of investment have left affordable homes in short supply.  Between 2011 and 2014 annual rents in Bristol increased by £1272; whilst wages fell by £1730 in real terms. Is it any wonder that homelessness is increasing?

Me and Darren Hall protesting against C J Hole's attempts to profiteer from the housing crisis and push up rents

Me and Darren Hall protesting against C J Hole’s attempts to profiteer from the housing crisis and push up rents

Me carrying my placard with C J Hole's unethical profiteering letter quote, filched from the BBC news website

Me carrying my placard with C J Hole’s unethical profiteering letter quote, filched from the BBC news website

I would press the council to make better use of its compulsory purchase orders to bring properties back on the market and object to any developments that didn’t contain a considerable proportion of affordable homes. The councils own requirement of 40% is not enough, but even this modest measure is far too infrequently followed.

As the sale of social housing and the encouraging of ‘buy to let’ have concentrated the ownership of property in the hands of an ever smaller number of people; tenants have been increasingly getting a bad deal. Their rights are frequently ignored, they face insecure tenancies, rip off letting fees and properties that are all too frequently poorly maintained. Across the UK 1/3 of privately rented homes now contain unacceptable levels of mould and damp

I will support campaign for tenants’ rights (like ACORNS ethical lettings charter), the abolition of letting fees, and the introduction of rent caps (as they have in Scotland); and I will campaign for longer and securer tenancies for renters.

Environment

Aside for the crises of inequality and poverty, the looming environmental crisis is the most series threatening our society (and species and planet as a whole).  I would encourage sustainability in everything the council does (especially energy, and procurement).  I would oppose fracking which is extremely damaging to the environment, is the completely wrong direction our energy policy needs to be taking, and puts private companies’ profits before the rights of home owners and communities.  I would be a vocal voice on the council for the campaign to divest from fossil fuel companies and make Bristol fossil free.  Finally I would join other Greens in campaigning for better air quality throughout our city (nationwide over 50,000 people die prematurely each year because of the polluted nature of our air).

Vote Green

We need strong alternative voices, prepared to fight for what they believe in and for ordinary people representing us if we are to have any chance of tackling the problems we face.  I believe I could be that voice for local people. If you want a strong independent alternative voice that’s committed to standing up for ordinary people and advancing social and environmental justice than I’d urge you to consider voting Green.

 

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NHS

The Bristol People’s March for the NHS

On Saturday the 14th of March I had the pleasure and honor of joining the People’s March for the NHS Bristol.  The march follows the lead of a group of county Durham mums who last year recreated the Jarrow march and trekked 300 miles to London to raise awareness of the creeping privatisation slowly taking over our NHS.  We didn’t quiet go the full 300 mile hog, and just marched from College Green to Castle Park (both in the BS1 postcode).  Due to the zigzag route we took, maximising our exposure to the public as we went through the main shopping areas, this took about an hour.  Still with the aim of the march being to raise awareness, we couldn’t have had a better route.  The event could have been pushed harder (it wasn’t advertised until only a few weeks ago), but it was still very well attended, drawing in around 300 people.  The march had a very inclusive and lively atmosphere, with a colorful array of banners and placards, a variety of horns and drums, and musical accompaniment provided by the wonderful Bristol Choir.

We managed to get around 30 of our local Green Party members to turn out (which out of a crowd of 300 was about 10% – which seems fairly high) to support this vital campaign.  Armed with some hastily prepared ‘brooms of change’ – to ‘sweep the private companies out of our NHS’ and the trusty Bristol Green Party banner we set off on a mini-Green block with the rest of the march at around 11:30 am.

brooms of change

Spirits were high, and we quickly broke into some call and response chants:

“NHS… Not for Sale!”
“Whos NHS?… Our NHS!”
“No ifs, no buts, NO NHS CUTS”

Having cut my teeth on student demonstrations, I struggled with this last chant and repeatedly lapsed into no ifs, no buts, no education cuts.  Thankfully no one seemed to notice or mind.

The response from the public seemed extremely positive.  No one could not notice hundreds of people marching through the busiest shopping streets of Bristol, carrying banners and singer chants.  No one got past without a barrage of leaflets from the numerous groups and organisations supporting the march. Being at the back of the march most people were already weighed down with 3 or 4 different leaflets by the time our Green bloc reached them, but people were so hungry for information that this didn’t present too much of a challenge.  On its own terms of raising public awareness the march seem to me to be hugely successful.  Our short zigzag route took us through all the main shopping areas in central Bristol exposing thousands of people to our demonstration.  The 300 of us, stretched out in a long line, with our placards and horns, made quiet an impact.

I managed to convince my housemate to come along for what turned out to be his first ever protest march.  It’s always a pleasure to get to share this experience with someone.  He happily remarked on that sense of strength that comes from gathering en mass for collective action like this, and the exhilarating feeling of symbolically reclaiming the streets and forcing the cars away as we march down landmark Bristol roads.  These are feelings we all feel, but should remind ourselves of, as they highlight the transformative nature of collective action, and how coming together makes us strong.

When we finally made it to Castle Park around 12:30pm, we were met by some inspiring speeches, and a wonderful NHS rendition of don’t it always seem to be you don’t know what you’ve lost till its gone by the Bristol choir.

As was pressed upon us from the stage, the timing for actions on the NHS couldn’t be more pressing.  Last week the largest privatisation deal yet was struck, seeing £780 million worth of diagnosis and treatment services contracted out to 11 different private health firms.  This is justified ostensibly by being required to clear a backlog in missed treatment.  This backlog was caused predominately by government policies – chiefly cuts to the NHS budget, and to community care (which has forced hospital use up by around 10%), and the loss of 35,000 staff since 2010.  The NHS is being starved of resources and stretched to breaking point.  It is being set up to fail, so that when it does, that failure can be used to justify more privatisation (the very privatisation that is causing it to fail in the first place).  This is the classic tactic of the privateers.  Vultures in the form of for profit private health care companies are circling our NHS.  Enabled by corrupt politicians, many of whom are benefiting financially from its dissolution, they’re attempting to carve up this most cherished of British institutions.  If the marketisation of the NHS continues at its current pace, their will be no recognisable NHS left in another 5 years.

The mainstream media (with a few exceptions… and particularly shockingly from the BBC) have been disgracefully mute on whats going on in the NHS.  That’s why marches and campaigns to raise awareness like this one are so critically important.  We need to make sure everyone knows whats happening in the NHS if we are to have any chance to save it, and then we have try to convince them to vote accordingly.

As Mike Campbell from the Bristol group Protect Our NHS has laid out the problem: “The coming election is likely to determine whether we have an NHS in five years time, so we would urge everyone to think carefully before they vote. We cannot tell people who to vote for, but we think everyone should be aware that the coalition government has put in place all the structures for a private healthcare system. Can you afford personal health insurance? And can you trust politicians who have sold the hospital records of 47 million NHS patients to insurance companies without our consent?”

 

Darren Hall standing up for the NHS The banner again  IMG_20150315_225230 IMG_20150315_225354 Greens at march for the NHS Greens at march for the NHS 2 Greens at march for the NHS 3IMG_20150315_225509

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NHS, Trade Unions and Industrial Disputes

Govenment u-turn on FairPay. Victory for NHS staff?

Late on Tuesday the 27th of January the news started to come through that the planned 12 hour strike by NHS workers from 11 different heath unions had been postponed, in light of an improved offer on pay from Jeremy Hunt and the department for health.  Originally the majority of staff were to get nothing (as outlined in my previous post); and when union members struck, Hunt and the government refused to even meet union representatives, to negotiate.  Collective action by unionised workers (and the threat of continued and escalating action) brought the government to the negotiating table in the first place and forced from them this improved offer.  This is a remarkable achievement, but does it really represent victory for NHS staff?  These are the proposals outlined in Hunt’s letter to the unions:

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As its frames of reference are couched in the language of agenda for change pay points it may seem slightly confusing. Let me explain.

In essence the government is now offering to give all staff earning under £56,000 a 1% consolidated pay rise, with additional increases for the very lowest paid (around 5.6-2.2% for just over 200,000 staff).  This will be funded by freezing the normal incremental pay increase of staff paid over £40,500 (pay point 34). These staff still get the proposed 1% increase (worth less than the increment) up to staff paid £56,000 who get nothing.  This allows Hunt and the department of health to give the majority of staff a rase without increasing the budget or making good of his threat to sack 14,000 nurses.  From anecdotal evidence and my own experience at work those earning above £56,000 (band 8) were less likely to support the strike.  Nonetheless, this still alarms me as a move to pit the lower and higher paid staff against one another, instead of focusing on how its the governments policy itself that is attacking our working terms and conditions to pay for a crisis we did least to create. Finally the government wants to cap redundancy payments; and makes a lukewarm commitment to continue to use the Pay Review Board (who’s recommendations it ignored precipitating the whole dispute) to increase NHS pay in the future.

To some extent the offer addresses (in part) most of the core demands our unions balloted us to strike for.  These were primarily to implement the suggestion of the Pay Review Board to give all staff a 1% cost of living pay rise; to pay the living wage as a minimum; and to restore the value of NHS pay to pre-recession levels in the future. These are very modest demands and it is ridiculous that it required two four hour strikes and the threat of further twelve and twenty-four hour strikes (as well as lots of lobbying and action shot of a strike) to get an offer that even starts to address them.  In Wales where a Tory party ideologically committed to austerity isn’t in power none of this was necessary.

CSP assistant director Peter Finch succinctly surmised the offer:

“For the vast majority this new offer represents a better deal than originally proposed by government.  There is no doubt the threat of further industrial action was a decisive factor in the decision by government to negotiate with the unions.  This still isn’t a great offer but for 2015/16 it does at least provide a consolidated increase, which means it is pensionable and permanent. It does also re-affirm a commitment to the pay review body.”

The 1% goes nowhere near to mitigating the undermining of our pay by inflation since the recession (by about 10-16%). It doesn’t come into effect till the next financial year (conceding another cut against inflation to NHS pay for this year).  It also doesn’t address the increased workload brought about by the current government’s policies – the loss of 35,000 staff since 2010 and a 10% increase in patient numbers (as cuts to community care force more people into hospitals).  Worst of all there is no mention of the governments recent announcement that it plans to cut unsocial hours payments (additional pay for weekend or night shift) by either reducing the amount of hours classed as unsocial, or the value of these hours (or both).  For me, the extra token few pence an hour this offer would give me personally would be taken away many times over if these proposals for unsocial hours go ahead. We could ballot for strike action again once the government makes concrete plans over unsocial hours payments, but this could lose all of the momentum our actions have built up so far.  Furthermore strikes are most effective right now just before the general election as they focus attention onto the NHS (where the majority of people disagree with the Coalition policy).  It was the embarrassment caused to the government by our first two short strikes and the prospect of a 9am-9pm stoppage in January (and 24 hours in Feburary) that most likely caused the governments u-turn on pay. Waiting to see how bad the governments final plans for unsocial hours will be and then balloting loses vital time and could delay action past when it will be effective.  We need to push for the government to scrap these plans now whilst the influence of our actions is highest and we have the best chances of success. For these reasons I will be voting to reject the offer.  Securing this government u-turn on pay is a victory; but put against all the other attacks to our pay and conditions so far, and the looming threat over unsocial hours, it is insignificant.

I’ll leave you with the words of some of the other health unions that highlight some of the major problems NHS staff are facing that this offer does nothing to address. Though they are talking about nurses or midwifes in particular their comments describe the situation for almost all staff

Dr Peter Carter, Chief Executive & General Secretary of the RCN said of the offer: “This is a positive start, but there is more to be done. The Government must not let today’s breakthrough go to waste by ignoring the immense pressure and stress NHS staff are under because of chronic understaffing. The only solution to the recruitment crisis which is hammering staff morale and patient care is a sensible long-term workforce strategy with fair pay at its core.

Cathy Warwick of the RCM: “Midwives are caring people who work long hours to give excellent care to women and their babies, often working beyond their shift and through their breaks.

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NHS

The excessive costs of NHS privatisation

20141123_231110In my previous post on the NHS pay dispute I highlighted the need to broaden our struggles against poverty pay to include the ongoing part-privatisation of the NHS, enacted by successive governments over the past three decades, and exacerbated by the current coalition. I had originally hoped to cover both pay and privatisation in one piece, as they are intrinsically linked and symptomatic of the same neoliberal austerity agenda undermining our health care system. Unfortunately, this was too mammoth a task to complete in a length that was accessible for the blog format; so I’ve split them into two.

Jeremy Hunt maintains that we’re spending too much on the NHS and we can’t afford to give staff even the less than 1% cost of living rise recommended by the government’s independent review board; and that to find the money for a rise within the NHS budget would cost the jobs of 15,000 nurses. This argument is fairly spurious as the government can always find more money to increase budgets for expenditures it prioritises; like MPs own massive pay rise for example. Even if we act within the current NHS budget constraints, the argument that there’s no money to pay for staff falls flat.

We spend about 8% of our GDP on our health service; this is far lower than comparable countries such as Germany (10.5%), France (12.2%) and the USA (16%); and with far better results (as recently highlighted in an international study, ranking the NHS as the best in the world). Even within this internationally relatively low figure there are colossal amounts of money wasted. This is mainly by artificially forcing the NHS to work like a market (especially the biding process for services); the overlapping and unnecessary bureaucracy; the money ferreted out to private companies – either through profits for providing health services or the extortionate rent on rip off PFI contracts; and the excessive pay of chief executives and managers.

The worst of these is the wastage in forcing the NHS to work like a market. Hospitals are turned into separate trusts and made to act like corporations, bidding against one another and private health providers for contracts to run services– through a hugely complicated and fragmented system.  Governments refuse to collect accurate statistics on just how much of a massive drain on NHS resources this is, it has been estimated to cost as much as £30 billion a year by a group of rebel Lib Dems. It is most likely to be around £10 billion a year. This is nearly 10% of the NHS’ entire £108.9 billion budget. Apparently there’s spare money to pay for ideological vanity projects like this, but not for staff.

It has been a long process over the last three decades to get us to this point; but coalition reforms have greatly exacerbated it. The 2012 Health and Social Care act (that massive top down reorganisation Cameron promised he wouldn’t do) forces almost all services to be put out to tender for private companies to bid on. Since 2012 70% of contracts have been won by the private sector. As time goes on and more and more contracts come up for renewal, and get exposed to biding by private companies, this is going to have an ever increasing impact. These private health companies then extract a profit from running the services. This is public money collected as taxes being paid into private hands. Before this money would have been put back into the system, now it’s lining the pockets of these private companies and their shareholders.

Private Finance Initiatives (PFI) allow private companies to build hospitals (and other infrastructure) and rent them back to us. This doesn’t sound so ominous, but for some reason the terms of the contracts are usually much to the detriment of the tax payer – locking hospitals into 30-60 year contracts that will see them pay back the price of the hospital many times over.  The perilous situation our NHS is in, is extremely complicated. But one thing is clear; these reforms are pushing an already stretched system to the point of collapse.

As mentioned early, the NHS was ranked the number one health care system in an international league table. The greater the influence of a market system in each of the countries in the study, the worse it performed. The US has the most fully developed market model and was ranked last on the table, despite spending the most on its health care. The US spends around £5,017 per person on health, compared to just £2,008 here in the UK, and with considerably worse results. Yet this seems to be the model our government wants to pursue.  Purely on the basis of cost effectiveness and value for money, privatisation is a massive failure; and that’s without considering the moral implications and its impacts on patient care and people’s lives.

That is why as Greens we will continue to support all NHS staff in their struggles for a decent wage, and any and all efforts to resist privatisation (such as the NHS reinstatement bill http://www.nhsbill2015.org/ ); which diverts funds desperately needed for health care into the coffers of private companies. We believe the profit principle has no place in our Health Service, and all examples of where private companies have been given greater control have led to reduced standards of care and scandal after scandal. Just look at the flagship privatisation of Hinchingbrooke completely run by private health company Circle. Quality of care, hygiene and patient safety are all sacrificed for profit. There is another way. A properly funded health service, available to all, free at the point of use – paid for from progressive taxation. By creating a fairer, more equal and more sustainable society that tackles the causes of sickness (such as pollution and lack of access to nutrients as a result of poverty) instead of just the symptoms, and by ending the needlessly fragmentation internal market, we can significantly reduce the cost of healthcare.

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