By Richard Duckworth
South West NHS Fightback campaigners have distributed hundreds of leaflets and held discussions with health workers at Frenchay Hospital in Bristol. The hospital is part of North Bristol NHS Trust, a member of the South West Hospitals Pay, Terms and Conditions Consortium (PTC), a pay cartel which wants to reduce wages and introduce a performance-based pay system, increase working hours, reduce unsocial-hours payments, remove sickness absence enhancements and cut annual leave.
The Trust has already made £24 million in cuts and axed 450 jobs from Frenchay and neighbouring hospital Southmead. According to the local Evening Post, all departments in the trust were instructed last year to slash “their costs from staffing levels, the type of materials they use and the way they carry out their service.”
Chief executive Ruth Brunt callously referred to the job losses as “natural turnover” and boasted “only another 4 million” in cuts to go. She described how the trust employs 9,000 people and that only half of the expected ten per cent of the workforce to leave each year will be replaced. Staff whose jobs are eliminated will either be re-deployed in the hospital or forced to move to other health organisations in the city.
Brunt declared that the trust fully intends to intensify the attack on wages and conditions:
“This is business as usual for us…We have delivered £24 million in savings this year and I’m sure we can deliver more. It is a bit embarrassing but this is business as usual for us. Our financial risk rate is improving against what seems to be challenging savings targets and we are improving our underlying financial stability.”
Of course while Brunt boasts about savings the reality is that it has resulted in increasing appeals to charitable donations to support services. The transfer of the children’s burns, neurosciences and major trauma units in 2014 to Bristol Children’s Hospital has led the launching of a Grand Appeal to raise up to £5.5 million to buy state-of-the-art equipment and family accommodation.
Despite the stark record and statements of the chief executive, the unions at Frenchay Hospital have displayed notices reassuring workers, “North Bristol Trust senior managers have told Staff Side (unions) that their purpose for joining (the pay cartel) is to keep abreast of discussions and to act to influence any discussions in a positive way, to emphasise incentivisation rather than penalising staff.”
The notices declare, “If the regional Pay Consortium has its way you will be paid less than other NHS staff in the rest of the country.”
This statement completely downplays the nature of the unprecedented attack being planned by the pay cartel, which is a test case for the 1.5 million NHS workers across the country and are a prelude to wholesale privatisation of health care.
The notices also declare, “We will not enter into any local negotiations regarding your nationally agreed terms,” indicating that health unions are quite willing to discuss cuts to pay and services.
In a sign of the unions’ subservient attitude to management, another notice displaying details of three upcoming unions meetings in Frenchay Hospital announces that the “trust has agreed to our members meeting at work.”
Campaigners spoke to a staff nurse, a member of the Royal College of Nursing, who felt that the plan to slash wages and destroy jobs was “incredibly short sighted, I think hospital staff work very, very hard and get very little recognition as it is. We are having problems bringing in staff to cover sickness shortages. We are having problems getting qualified members of staff to cover absences.”
“People do not want to be nurses anymore. If I was a newly qualified member of staff looking for a post and discovered that if you work in the South West where the pay cartel is trialling this and I’m going to get paid 15 percent less I would work anywhere else in the country.”
“I feel very let down. I think the way the government has gone about putting the Health and Social Care bill into place is quite scary as well. A lot of this has been via the backdoor and not been in the mainstream media, so large numbers of the South West general public don’t even know it has happened.”
The nurse predicted that the NHS will become “a two tier health system, where the poor get even more marginalised than they are at the moment… looked after in crumbling run down county hospitals, while the rich pay for their own care and get looked after in palaces.”
The nurse went onto express frustration with the health unions’ fruitless campaigns of petitions, letter writing and lobbies supposedly aimed at pressurising the Conservative/Liberal Democrat government and NHS Trusts to change their minds:
“You get the impression that even if the government received a letter from every single member of NHS staff, every single patient and relative, I don’t honestly think it would make any difference.”
He concluded by explaining, “The time of the unions is gone. It’s time for people to start making a stand for themselves. I think your campaign is very good, it’s very professionally led and is speaking to people who will be affected, who need to be leading the charge… Rather than a six figure union executive, this is what we’ve got to do.”