The entrances to Calderdale Royal Hospital were picketed by striking NHS staff this morning between 7-11am, with many passing cars honking their horns in support.
Members of Unison, Unite, GMB and the Royal College of Midwives stood in the rain handing out leaflets, to explain that years of frozen pay and deteriorating working conditions are making it impossible to retain staff and to care properly for patients.
Outside the A&E entrance, Linda Rudkin, Chair of the Unison Branch, said,
“We’re all aware that public services are stretched but most NHS staff work over and above what we’re paid for and always have. But that gap’s out the window now and we think enough’s enough.
We’ve gone years without a pay rise and the government’s trying to do us out of another pay rise.
The 1% pay rise only applies if you’re at the top of the incremental band. Otherwise your pay goes up as your experience takes you into another band, but that’s incremental drift.
That’s not a pay rise, and the government’s trying to make out that it is.”
Many NHS staff need a second job to make ends meet
A recent Unison survey found that one in five NHS workers needed more than one job to make ends meet, with some saying they worked up to 26 extra hours a week.
This was borne out at the Huddersfield Royal Infirmary picket, where Paul Cooney was among the striking staff.
Paul Cooney said:
“It’s the first strike for pay in 32 years and it shows the strength of feeling there is.
It’s mainly clinical staff here today; we’ve got theatre nurses, operating department practitioners, pharmacists, mental health nurses, house keeping staff and some office staff.
In real terms we’ve all had cuts of about 10% and inflation is rising year on year.
It’s had a real detrimental effect.
Many many people are not only doing second jobs but they’re doing bank contracts, extra shifts, not only at this Trust but at other trusts.”
Paul Cooney was among those who took part in the Walk for the NHS last August, to draw attention to the NHS cuts and sell offs that are happening across Calderdale, Huddersfield, Dewsbury and Wakefield.
Today on the picket line he explained,
“This is about central government, it’s not about the local employer. The fact that this Trust alone is facing cuts of £20m this year and £19m next year shows the lie that comes out of central government that they’ve ringfenced NHS spending.
“In the last four years we’ve seen cuts of at least 4% a year and this cannot be maintained, it endangers clinical care.”
Back at the Calderdale Royal Hospital picket, an NHS staff member said,
“Staff are 15% worse off than they were 5 years ago. The 1% pay rise that they give to some members of staff is a fixed amount each month – it doesn’t go on the hourly rate so that remains the same. And it’s not pensionable. The Independent Pay Review Board said it should be 1% across the board for the NHS, but you only get it if you’re at the top of the incremental band.”
Frontline patient care is suffering
Pauline Pilcher, the Unison Branch Secretary, said,
“The government hasn’t given any money for the 1% payrise, so it’s coming out of frontline patient care.
Patients are paramount. That’s why we’re only doing the minimum picket.
In 2004, Agenda for Change got everyone paid to what they should be, but it’s not been properly funded since then.
We’re short staffed and morale’s low. The hospitals Trust is short of 220 nurses and it’s looking to recruit. And the baby boomer nurses are leaving now. It’s difficult to recruit staff and the Trust will probably have to recruit overseas.
It’s going back to the 1970s.”
The striking NHS staff said that being short staffed means that patient care suffers. There are not enough nurses on a ward to talk with patients and understand what they’re feeling. Or to do simple but important tasks like handing patients a glass of water to drink and making sure the water jugs are freshly filled.
Increased form filling, which is required by management, can take precedence over caring for patients.
But, added Pauline Pilcher,
“It’s not all doom and gloom though. We love coming into work. The day I don’t enjoy coming into work is the day I stop working here.”
Excellent public support
Unison member Mick Coughlan said,
“We’ve been getting excellent public support – almost enough to warm me up.
On her way out, a patient who was here for a blood test stopped to say that she hoped we were successful as we keep her alive and should be looked after.
We’ve had support too from local Green Party Members – including a much welcomed brew from Gary Scott at 7 am – and from Local Government Unison members.”
Gary Scott, who back in the spring organised the first public protest against proposed cuts to acute and A&E hospital services, said,
“I was just there to see if anyone wanted a cup of tea fetching from the post office! I fully support the strike against the government’s refusal of a 1% pay rise.
Our NHS has been under threat ever since the government passed the privatising Health and Social Care Act in 2012.
This Act – passed by a Coalition that includes hundreds of MPs and Peers with vested interests in private healthcare and pharmacy companies – aimed to dismantle the NHS as we know it. And that’s what it’s doing.
£bns of NHS money are going on contracts with private health care companies, who siphon profit out of public funding that should be spent on frontline care.
That’s the situation NHS staff are working in now and it’s making their jobs next to impossible. They deserve public support, and they’ve got mine.”
Midwives have never taken strike action before
Picketing the main entrance to Calderdale Royal Hospital, were GMB members and midwives.
One of the midwives (none of whom wanted to be named) said,
“We’re here for women and for midwives. We need a better situation. Morale’s low – it’s about pay and conditions. There’s all this unpaid overtime going on and we need to recruit more midwives.”
Another midwife added,
“The midwifery service runs on goodwill. Midwives have never taken strike action before. I think it says a lot about where we’re at.
We haven’t withdrawn services today. The safety of mothers and babies is paramount.”
A third midwife said,
“Staff retention’s very poor. They can’t recruit Band 6 midwives – those are the midwives with experience.
And when they they do recruit, they can’t retain. We’re short of staff here. And the complexity of care has increased, so we need more staff.”
The first midwife said,
“We’re angry that it’s not accurate information that’s being put out by the media. Jeremy Hunt was on the radio this morning giving out misleading information.
We would have been £6K better off over the last 4 years if we’d received an inflation-related pay rise like we used to.
The Independent pay review has recommended a 1% pay rise, but the Department of Health has refused to implement it.”
Meanwhile, the costs of administering the NHS “market”, as a result of the 2012 Health and Social Care Act and previous “reforms” by the New Labour government, amount to between £4.5bn and £10bn/year – or even higher, if rebel LibDems are to be believed,
Wouldn’t it be better for both patients and staff to end NHS privatisation and marketisation and spend those £bns on patient care and decent staff wages?
From tomorrow (14 October), RCM members, along with healthcare workers from other unions, will continue with further industrial action that involves not working any unpaid overtime and taking all breaks to which they are entitled.