Rights at work: picking up the pieces in 2020

07 February 2020

Colenzo Jarrett-Thorpe, Unite national officer for health, looks at the prospects for community practitioners following the election result last year.

Usually, we celebrate the passing of one year or one decade to the next on New Year’s Eve. But this time around it seemed as if, in UK politics, that new start occurred on Friday 13 December.

That day, we awoke to the prospect of a full term of a Conservative Government headed by Boris Johnson with a majority that no Conservative prime minister has earned for more than 30 years. For Unite-CPHVA, the result dashed all hopes of the change we were campaigning for in public health nursing services, particularly in England.

The current government made no pledges in the election campaign to increase the number of health visitors, school nurses and community nursery nurses in England. So it was no surprise in the Queen’s Speech on 19 December to see nothing concerning these key health professions.

National Health Sector Conference delivers for Public Health Nursing

Unite’s national industrial sector conference in Brighton last November welcomed speakers from the European Public Services Union and the health section of the United Steel Workers Union. This followed an address by Unite’s general secretary, Len McCluskey. The conference also passed 16 motions, three of which will be of particular interest to CPs:

  • Effective safe staffing for health and social care in the UK and Ireland
  • Protection of health visiting services
  • Health visiting and school nursing (0 to 19 services) in crisis.

It will be a priority for Unite-CPHVA to campaign for statutory safe staffing levels for health professionals in England and Northern Ireland to mirror legislation that exists in Wales and Scotland.

We will campaign for the HV title to be protected and for the commissioning of public health services to be returned to the NHS from local government. Look out for more initiatives on these topics soon in Community Practitioner.

The government did unveil these commitments to the NHS that reflected the manifesto they campaigned on:

  • Increase funding for NHS England by 3.1% between 2019-20 and 2023-24
  • Enshrine the NHS Long-term plan in law within the first three months  Fund and build 40 new hospitals over the next 10 years
  • Free hospital parking for certain groups, such as disabled people
  • 50,000 more nurses; £5000 to £8000 maintenance grant for nursing students
  • 6000 more GPs; 6000 more primary care professionals
  • Review pension tax taper affecting doctors’ pensions within first 30 days
  • Introduce NHS visa.

Alternatives to austerity

Although the government has pledged increased funding for the NHS in England, it is unclear whether that will be matched in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. The Barnett formula should ensure a proportionate amount of money is given to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, but it is up to each governing structure how this amount is spent.

We must remember that the Scottish Government kept its pledge to increase the amount of HVs by 500 by 2018. Meanwhile, in England, the number of HVs has decreased by around a third and, furthermore, the NHS no longer commissions services provided by community practitioners (CPs). They are now commissioned by local government and there has been no similar pledge from the government to increase their funding, which despite being a primary public service for millions has seen its budgets and funding slashed to the bone since 2010.

The NHS Long-term plan saw some interesting initiatives to support health services in the community, but we wait to see how primary care networks and integrated care systems can deliver for the communities they are meant to serve. The role for CPs appears to be vague.

We will have to see the details of plans to increase the numbers of primary care professionals to 6000. The plans to increase the numbers of nurses by 50,000 seem far-fetched, especially since that plan relies on ensuring 20,000 nurses remaining in post without creating the conditions for retaining staff, many of whom feel burnt-out and demoralised after being subjected to downgrading and deskilling for the last decade.

Will the student maintenance grant be enough to attract new entrants into health, essential to deliver the long-term plan?

Restoration of the maintenance grant for nursing and professions allied to medicine students will be welcome in 2020, but students still face very high fees for their tuition. Will this be enough to attract new entrants into health professions, which will be essential to deliver the objectives of the NHS Long-term plan?

Brexit has already led to a reduction of health professionals from EU nationals working in our NHS. We will have to see if the planned introduction of the NHS visa will work to ensure that wherever health professionals come from, they are not inhibited or restrained from working in the NHS as long as they have the correct qualifications and competencies to do so.

Our role will be continuing to advocate on behalf of you and the services you provide to enhance the health of our nations and the people under your care. We will also hold the new government to account to ensure it delivers on its promises.

Unite launches new online learning platform

Another feature of the national industrial sector conference was the launch of uniteinhealth.com This is now the home of:

 Learning and development

 Upskilling

 Professional and Industrial training

 Extensive resources

 Up-to-date sector information. 

The site complements and supports members’ education and development, and offers them the opportunity to learn at their own convenience, pace and space. Please check it out and give your feedback.

If you would like to discuss anything in this article further, email Colenzo at [email protected] or on Twitter @only1colenzojt


Picture Credit | iStock

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