New Worker Banner

The Weekly paper of the New Communist Party of Britain

NHS workers gear up

by New Worker correspondent

UP AND DOWN the country health service workers are preparing to strike over pay.

Members of the Royal College of Midwives in England and Wales are balloting for industrial action whilst their colleagues north of the border have already voted in favour of walk-outs.

Others may soon join the fray.

The 63,000-strong Chartered Society of Physiotherapists (CSP) are balloting for industrial action in England and Wales, with those in Northern Ireland and Scotland having already done so. Physiotherapists are being urged by the union leadership to vote Yes to action. Mrs Alex Mackenzie, CSP chair of council, warned: “If the government do not come back with decent offers in line with inflation and that benefits all, then more physiotherapy staff will be forced to leave. We currently have a workforce crisis on our hands. If more physios leave due to such a low pay rise this will ultimately impact on patient care.”

The CSP’s Northern Ireland members earlier voted in favour of industrial action if they do not receive at least the same pay award as those in England and Wales, but the turnout was too low to trigger action.

first time

Scottish NHS physiotherapy staff voted last month for industrial action, the first time in history they had done so. On a 63 per cent turnout, 79 per cent were in favour of strike action and 90 per cent in favour of other industrial action short of a strike. Strike action could therefore take place anytime in the next six months.

Shortly before the close of the ballot the SNP Government made a slightly improved offer that was aimed at splitting unions. This made slight improvements for lower-paid staff but was still far below inflation.

The response of the leadership was not terribly energetic, they want further consultation with members and with other NHS unions. Alex MacKenzie said: “It’s incredible that instead of responding to those pressures with a constructive offer, the Scottish government came out last week with a new offer that not only still falls far short of our claim but also leaves some staff significantly worse off than under the original offer.”

also on the march

Three mega-unions, Unison, Unite and the GMB, are also on the march. Unite has about 100,000 members in the NHS, including ambulance service workers, audiologists, blood testers, counsellors and psychotherapists, and optometrists, along with others such as building maintenance workers, electricians, administration and ICT geeks.

Pay is top of the list. NHS salaries have slumped in real terms as a result of high inflation and over a decade of low pay rises. But it’s not just that. Front-line NHS workers face increasing levels of abuse from patients frustrated at the chronic deterioration in the service.

Colenzo Jarrett-Thorpe, Unite’s National Officer for Health, warned that: “The strike wave across the NHS is widening because our members have had enough. They are watching the NHS that they have given their lives to fall apart in front of their eyes because of 12 years of Tory cuts. And the truth is that they cannot afford to do the job anymore, yet this government wants to cut their pay further.

“The government is destroying our most precious asset. If our members walk out on strike, it will be the toughest thing they ever do but they have to protect our NHS.”

In Scotland, the SNP government is offering a new flat-rate offer for NHS Scotland staff that is even less than a previously rejected five per cent offer for many workers. This had been rejected by 89 per cent.

James O’Connell, a Unite industrial officer, said: “The principle of a flat rate increase is right and fair to address imbalances in pay across grading structures. However, ultimately this new offer would still not see experienced NHS workers with any real improvements in their pay.

“Unite will begin balloting members this week, but NHS Scotland should be under no illusion that we will walk away from anything less than a decent pay rise across the board for all workers in the NHS.”

take heart

Health workers can take heart, however, from the case of 29 outsourced linen and laundry at Barts Hospital in London who have won a 17 per cent increase. Whilst they will be transferred from Synergy to the NHS in May, they have already just secured NHS terms and conditions.

Tabusam Ahmed, regional officer at Unite, added: “Unite is successfully building on the earlier victory to bring 1,800 workers who were employed by Serco into NHS employment. The union has now struck another blow against the race to the bottom in the NHS.”

Ambulance workers are another group of NHS employees on the frontline. Those in Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, Hampshire and Oxfordshire are angry at a four per cent rise imposed in September that gave them a measly extra £100 per month. Pitiful when one thinks that it means much less than an extra pound per hour. They want more.

Unite general secretary Sharon Graham made the point that applies to many other workers when she said: “Over more than a decade, NHS workers’ wages have been eroded, even as workloads became increasingly unmanageable. Now with soaring living costs, the situation is critical. The impact of this real-terms pay cut will result in the flood of overworked and underpaid workers leaving the NHS becoming a tsunami. The government must put forward a proper pay rise or else the NHS will go from being on its knees to being on life support.”


More particularly, Unite regional officer Jesika Parmer added that: “The anger amongst our South Central Ambulance Service members at rapidly diminishing living standards, increasingly threadbare services and ever more unsustainable workloads, is such that we are balloting for strike action. The government must put forward a better pay deal and one that does not come out of existing, soon to be horrifically squeezed, budgets.”

The other union with many ambulance workers is also on the same path. It is balloting its 15,000 ambulance members in 11 English and Welsh trusts in the course of this month and is planning similar action in other trusts.

Rachel Harrison, a GMB National Officer, said of the imposed four per cent: “Ambulance workers have just had enough. They’ve not been on strike in decades, but they are at the end of what they can take.”

In addition to low pay, she noted that: “Vacancies are at record highs and we have the worst A&E delays ever – and it’s not even the winter flu season yet.

“But this is about more than pay and conditions. Cuts and shortages mean GMB members feel they are unable to deliver safe standards of patient care.”

Hopefully they will follow the road of their Scottish colleagues who voted 89 per cent for action, as reported last week.

These stresses and strains were highlighted in a recent ITV News report into ambulance waiting times.

Glenn Carrington, a senior paramedic and Unison activist at the East of England Ambulance Service (EEAS), was quoted as saying: “We’re spending so much time sat outside the hospital. The record so far is 10 and a half hours. Literally 10 and a half hours with our patient in the back of our vehicle, unable to move into the hospital.”

When ITV health editor Emily Morgan asked a blindingly obvious question: “Did that patient deteriorate?” Mr Carrington replied by saying: “They always deteriorate. We’ve had a few people die in the back of our ambulances. And the guilt you feel, the anger, the frustration. I can’t put it into words, it’s heart-breaking.”

At present, one in ten ambulances wait more than an hour to admit patients to hospital, whilst in 2019 it was only one in 50.

That is, if you are allowed to get an ambulance. The same report described how West Midlands Ambulance Service Unison staff chair and call supervisor Reena Farrington said how she often leaves work for the day, only to find the same patients waiting the next morning when she comes back to work: “That’s if they make it through the night.”

National officer Alan Lofthouse said: “Because there’s no real response from government to solve the problem, it feels like the individual workers are taking that on.

“We hear of people who go to work who have to sit in their car in tears, or people in control centres who take calls and have to go and cry in the toilet because they feel so much pressure themselves.”