Helen O'Connor is a regional organiser for GMB Union.
Last Saturday 8 August, thousands of NHS health workers marched in towns and cities all over the country because they are angry. These staff worked to keep the NHS running though the pandemic and many owe their lives to these staff including the Prime Minister himself.
NHS staff who have already suffered greatly under the NHS cuts and privatisation agenda, were angry that recent announcements on public sector pay excluded them. A recruitment crisis has developed in the NHS simply because NHS staff are being slowly driven into poverty and they are not being paid properly for the increasing workloads and pressure they face on a daily basis. It is estimated that years of pay freezes and minuscule below inflation pay rises have led to more experienced NHS workers losing up to 20% of their pay. So the reality is that the demand for a significant pay rise isn’t even a pay rise at all, its just recouping some of what has been lost over the years.
The NHS is nothing without its dedicated staff and the reality is that we are losing the most experienced of these to the NHS for good. Many other NHS workers are being outsourced to private companies and cleaning and food provision has deteriorated as a result. There is little point in government policy that is spending billions on new hospitals if the NHS cannot attract the skilled and experienced staff it needs, because it is becoming an increasingly unattractive employer. It takes years to train and develop a qualified nurse and now we don’t have enough of them in the NHS and their numbers are dwindling further.
Pay and conditions are linked to standards in the NHS so this is a life or death issue. Hospital patients need to be able to count on skilled and experienced people to look after them when they are at their most vulnerable. Increasing numbers of hospital staff are joining GMB Union because as a trade union we prioritise organising and campaigning around their pay and conditions. The NHS pay campaign that is springing up is integral to protecting quality and standards in our NHS for years to come and this is why every serious NHS campaigner must get behind it.
Not only must we keep NHS public but keep privateers out of it completely. No more privatisation! Insource outsourced jobs and services!
I obviously support nurses receiving the right pay, but I am concerned that the government will use this to say privatisation will enable this more than keeping the NHS public. When the public sees calls to increase nurse wages they say yes, but the message of stopping privatisation is completely lost. Nobody understands what is happening because there is no cohesive resistance. It seems to me that the first and most urgent cause is to wrest the NHS back from creeping privatisation.