Saturday, 27 April 2013

UNISON Health Conference 2013

I attended UNISON Health Conference in Glasgow earlier in the week as a visitor. As anyone reading the blog would hopefully be aware, I'm standing for election to the NEC of UNISON as part of a Left slate, so I attended to meet members, observe the debates and pick up support. I also attended to raise the profile of the 4:1 Campaign which myself and several nursing colleagues are involved it, which is campaigning for mandatory minimum staffing levels in the NHS.

The response to the 4:1 campaign was really positive. Many attendees grabbed the leaflets when they saw the title and agreed that mandatory minimums were an absolute necessity, although there was a lot of disbelief as to whether we could win them while the Tories controlled the Department of Health. Several branch officers were interested in the campaign and agreed to circulate the materials to their members and get them involved in the campaign. Hopefully more will get in touch via the website and spread the camapaign amongst union members in the frontline of NHS services. Getting active involvement from staff on the wards will be crucial to seeing the campaign grow and become effective.

You can read more about the campaign here at the website

The first day of conference was heavy as the main subjects were the events at Mid Staffordshire and the Francis report, and the release of the results of UNISON's survey of nursing staff, which revealed the constant crisis is gripping the NHS as a result of budget cuts and privatisation.

Firstly though.....why did UNISON invite David Nicholson to UNISON Health Conference?!

For those who don't know him, David Nicholson  is Chief Executive of the NHS, Chair of the NHS Commissioning Board, an architect of NHS privatisation and previously Chief Executive of the Strategic Health Authority which Mid Staffordshire hospital was part of when it began to perform horribly and kill patients as a result of budget cuts and the drive to attain Foundation Trust status. Nicholson was also responsible for issuing the "Nicholson Challenge" to the NHS: £20 Billion pounds of cuts in 5 years.

This man has patient's blood on his hands. And UNISON invited him to speak! It's a disgrace Nicholson was invited and the union leadership owe the union members, and especially the Staffordshire branches, an apology for doing so.

Thankfully for the union leadership Nicholson was unavailable to speak, otherwise they would probably have had a walkout from conference on their hands. It does demonstrate though a quite blatant willingness on the part of UNISON's leadership to work with some of the central actors in the governments plans to cut back and privatise the NHS. For all the leadership's talk of opposing cuts and defending members, they seem committed to carrying on the policy of social partnership with NHS management. In a time of austerity and the dismantling of the NHS this means in effect managing the cuts and the "transition" of the NHS from a publicly owned to a privatised system. This social partnership working has to stop, and a policy of active opposition to cuts and privatisation must be adopted by the union if it is to play any serious role in saving what remains of the NHS.

UNISON Survey of staff

The most fascinating and also horrifying part of the day was the report of UNISON's staff survey. Carried out on March 5th, UNISON surveyed over 1500 nurses and HCA's about their experiences on the day, and compiled a report of their responses. It is shocking and distressing for anyone who cares about patients and the NHS, it does contain some signs that things could be different.

When asked “Did you feel that there were adequate staff numbers to deliver safe, dignified, compassionate care?” Only three in 10 (31%) answered yes. Three quarters (76.6%) of staff who did not have enough time with patients were not able to give the care they wanted. More than half of respondents (55.7%) worked overtime and three out of five (59.8%) skipped breaks. These percentages increase for respondents working as nurses.

When asked to whether staff were confident a similar situation to Mid Staffordshire would not develop in their trust, 19.7% said it was already happening, either in isolation or across their trust. These figures should be a wake up call to everyone in the NHS, roughly 20% of hospitals may have conditions comparable to Mid Staffs. And we're not even experiencing the worst of the cuts yet.

There was something positive to be taken from the report. The responses show unions will have overwhelming support from healthworkers if they organise a public campaign for mandatory minimum safe staffing levels. Over 85% of nurses and healthcare assistants (HCAs) responding supported set minimum nurse-to-patient ratios. Almost 90% of respondents supported legislation mandating minimum nurse-to-patient ratios. Over 85% of HCA respondents supported minimum healthcare assistant-to-nurse ratios.

These figures show the level of support that staff on the frontline have for laws to enforce safe staffing. Its because we live with the reality of understaffing every day and can see for ourselves the impact it has on patients and staff.

UNISON should be using this data as evidence for building a massive public campaign which can mobilise NHS staff and the public to force the government to end the cuts and privatisations and start implementing reforms which will improve the NHS, not destroy it.

I'll post up the rest of the report about conference and the inspirational Healthworker meeting soon. Despite all the bad news there are fantastic examples of NHS staff organising and acting together to oppose the cuts, that need to be shared with everyone who works in the NHS.

No comments:

Post a Comment