Our reporter 17.09.12

The Southwest NHS Fightback campaign, an initiative of the Socialist Equality Party for building up action committees to combat the attacks on health workers’ pay and conditions, has received a big response from those seeking an alternative to the treachery of the trade unions.

The Southwest NHS Fightback website has had over 1600 hits since its launch just three weeks ago. Workers are sharing their experiences of how working conditions in the National Health Service are being eroded and patient care jeopardised due to so-called efficiency savings. Many realise this is directly linked to the slashing of the total NHS budget by one-fifth by the Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition as soon as it came to office in 2010. A growing number of people are also following the Tweets of the Southwest NHS Fightback and on Facebook.

Last Thursday, Southwest NHS Fightback campaigners distributed hundreds of leaflets in front of the Royal Bournemouth hospital exposing the bogus claims of chief executive Tony Spotswood that the pay cartel formed by 19 NHS Trusts was to improve employees pay and conditions and raise the standards of patient care. Several workers wanted bundles of the leaflet to share with their colleagues and display in staff rooms and departments.

After reading the leaflet one worker commented, “I am really angry about the letter Tony Spotswood gave to us. He is trying to back stab us while covering up the real aims of the pay cartel. His salary is nearly 15 times more than I get according to your leaflet, yet he wants us to have a 15 percent pay cut. Instead of them having a pay cut, I have heard that his salary is going to be more than £200,000 a year when this hospital merges with the Poole General hospital. We need to fight against these attacks. I am in Unison but they are useless. I am going to break from the union. There is no point in paying the union subs every month for nothing.”

Commenting on a meeting Spotswood held with a select number of staff to “appreciate their hard work” another worker said, “These all are cover ups of the role he plays in the pay cartel. He is demeaning us. The people who went there to shake hands with him and have free food will be sick when they have a 15 percent pay cut in April.”

Hundreds of copies of the statement “Oppose the cuts to wages and conditions at South West hospitals” were also distributed in work places including community hospitals, GP surgeries and ambulance units during the week. Many workers expressed their disgust at the cut to pay terms and conditions and how their living standards were declining. One worker at the Beachy Road NHS Ambulance unit was deeply concerned about how he was going to pay his mortgage if he had a pay cut and took several leaflets to share with his colleagues.

A worker at St Leonard’s hospital in Ringwood expressed his anger over bankers’ bonuses while the workers are forced to take pay cuts and health care is run down. He explained “The Royal Bournemouth and Christchurch Hospitals NHS Trust has closed down most of it wards at Christchurch Hospital. So there is big bed crisis for patients that need some rehabilitation output at this hospital. Patients are stuck in acute units waiting in a long list until beds are available here.”

A nurse at the Victoria Hospital, Wimborne was scathing of her union, the Royal College of Nursing saying, “My union is asking us to write to our local MPs in order to change their minds about these attacks.” Showing a copy of a reply she had had from her MP she exclaimed, “Look at the bullshit I have got in the reply from my MP. There is no point of writing to them.” The MP’s letter justifies the attacks on the ground of the economic crisis and endorses the NHS employers collaborating together locally to slash budgets.

The unions are endorsing fruitless campaigns of petitions and pressurising the very MPs who support the slashing of jobs and wages and privatisation of the NHS.

The reduction of NHS labour costs is a precondition to attracting private companies seeking to make profit from health care. Southwest NHS Fightback urges workers to organise themselves in action committees totally independent of the unions. Workers, patients and the wider public must be unified to bring down the government which is fully committed to dismantling the NHS and what remains of the welfare system.