Eric is a National Health Service worker and member of the Socialist Equality Party in Britain. He explains in this interview the conditions facing nursing and care staff and why he urges the creation of an action committee to fight the pay cartel established by NHS trusts in the South West region of England.
I have worked as a staff nurse in the south of England for several years and I am currently working in a very busy geriatric ward. I also work in other wards and units as part of the Staff Resource Pool to earn some much-needed extra money.
I came to know about the plans for a pay cartel from the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) in July, when things started to get hotter after the pay cartel’s Project Initiation Document was leaked. But I am sure that the RCN knew about the proposals long before that.
In the Project Initiation Document, the consortium executives call the leaders of the RCN and other unions their “staff side colleagues”. They are totally integrated into management.
The document says its aim is to “to create a fit for purpose, flexible workforce able to respond to any qualified provider.” This means making conditions attractive for private companies who are eagerly waiting to grab a piece of the NHS. One of the obstacles these private companies face is that wages are still determined nationally.
As a result of the efficiency savings imposed by the government, workloads have already been doubled and stress levels are high. Workers are angry about the increase in pension contributions at the same time as the age of retirement goes up and the actual benefits from the pension go down. We are outraged by the pay freezes while the cost of living is skyrocketing. Most of us are struggling to meet ends meet.
Although it is meant to be a 37.5 hour week for full-time workers, generally we work several more hours in the staff resource pool in order to maintain our living standards.
Patient safety and quality of care have been severely curtailed by the ongoing cut backs. To give the best care for older people it is recommended that there should be one nurse for between five and seven patients, but most of the time we have to look after more than 12 and on some occasions during the night, more than 28, if a nurse is absent. There should be a ratio of two registered nurses for every health care assistant (HCA) but as a cost cutting measure the ratio is the opposite– one nurse to two HCAs.
As some haven’t been trained to do certain procedures, the clinical site is called on to administer antibiotics, cannulation and catheterization, etc. Because we do not have enough clinical site specialist nurses on call, especially at weekends, at night and on bank holidays and senior nurses are not allowed to work as a cost cutting measure, it is very difficult to administer vital procedures on time. Now to save more money the pay cartel plans to cut down enhancement pay for unsocial hours for everyone.
We are forced to rush through our medicine rounds in order to join the HCAs with washing, dressing and helping older patients with their personal care needs and eating. As a result medicines are not taken and food is left to go cold. There are so many other failings due to understaffing, including basic recording of fluid balance charts, bowel charts and so on. Patients with dementia and other mental illnesses will get up and wander around, acting aggressively and disrupting other patients. Instead of addressing their problems, we are forced to call the security guards who haven’t got any training in safe restraint.
The Conservatives have accelerated the privatisation of the NHS. As soon as they came into office they imposed a 20 percent cut to the overall NHS budget. Then, with the support of their Liberal Democrat coalition partner, they passed the Health and Social Care Bill to complete their mission. It is clear that the government is behind the pay cartel, which is being used as a test case before rolling out across the country.
In 1945 the Labour government was forced, by a working class refusing to go back to pre-war conditions, to create a welfare system that would protect everyone “from the cradle to the grave”. The NHS became one of the best public health services in the world, but it has been severely eroded by the attacks of successive governments. The same is true in health services around the world.
Global capitalism is facing the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression in the 1930s. But the banks and hedge fund speculators continue to receive billions from public funds, while spending on education, health care and welfare is being slashed and hospitals, schools and other essential social services are handed over to big business.
The trade unions operating in the NHS undermine any genuine opposition to these plans. They kept their members in the dark for months and only started to say something when workers stated to act independently of them. Now they advocate fruitless petition campaigns and pressurising the very MPs who are preparing these attacks in the parliament.
They now declare that they do not “recognise” the pay cartel. What does that mean? Yesterday they were writing letters to chief executives who formed the pay cartel and tomorrow they will do a dirty deal with them.
We must form an action committee—independent of the trade unions—to take the fight to the Trusts and the government that backs them. Not just in the South West, but throughout the UK.
It is not true that there is no money to run the NHS. A tiny minority of rich individuals have accumulated massive wealth at the expense of a vast majority of the population. Money to defend and develop the NHS could be found by taking the banks and large companies into social ownership and taxing the massive wealth accumulated by the super-rich.
Workers should fight to build up a mass political movement to bring down the government and replace it with a workers’ government.