Opinion

Covid across the four nations: insight from Unite

18 September 2020

Gain insight from Unite officers on the main pandemic issues relevant to CPs across the UK, plus how they’re working on your behalf.

Rebuilding in Northern Ireland

Kevin McAdam, lead regional officer for Northern Ireland

When lockdown started, weekly meetings were established with the main trade unions, HR directors from trusts and boards, and the HR team at the Department of Health.

The meetings allowed for the dissemination of information between local and regional reps, and supported the operation of the service as we moved through the crisis and delivery demands changed.

Topics discussed included student transition into service, redeployment and care home provision, mental health and wellbeing support, risk assessments, childcare support, agency and bank staff, death in service benefits and ultimately the ‘return and rebuild’ of service.

A lot of this worked well but there were difficulties. For example, the death in service policy has not yet been rolled out.

The redeployment to Nightingale units, the setting-up of testing stations and of course PPE all featured large. And it was possible to swiftly influence outcomes from Trust level through to department and the Assembly executive. The best example of this was the paid overtime to staff in Band 8a and up as some small acknowledgment that they are unlikely to be getting much lieu time in the foreseeable future and that by way of compensation they would get paid the same as other staff.

Rebuilding the service is the next challenge –trying to capture the ‘good practices’ that came out of the pandemic and preventing others from rushing back to their comfort zone that wasn’t right then and isn’t right now. And also preventing those that might look at the recovery as the prime opportunity to rush through closures and cuts.


 

Partnerships work in Wales

Richard Munn, lead regional officer for Wales

Unite worked hard to ensure that the trade unions’ voice was central to the conversation from early on in the crisis. It was also important to establish a cohesive Staff Side voice. Both of these aims were achieved with specific trade union meetings set up in order to both listen to and then express the concerns our members had. 
On behalf of Unite, I attended five or six meetings a week. In the early days of Covid there were many questions – about health and safety, PPE, attendance and shielding. As and when the answers were agreed with the Welsh Government and employers, they were added to an FAQ document created for the crisis (see bit.ly/WAL_Covid_FAQ). At the time of writing it had around 40 questions. We have had to compromise at times, but I believe that the Health Minister, Welsh Government and employee representatives have listened to Unite’s concerns and helped facilitate a framework that allows our members to be heard. Unite is able to discuss matters directly with the Health Minister where it is required and we will do this for our members – especially where their safety and wellbeing are concerned.


Rollercoaster ride in England 

Obi Amadi, lead professional officer

The way that practice delivered during the crisis varied greatly. We were disappointed with the quick reflex but short-sighted move in many organisations in England to redeploy the health visitor and school nurse teams, downplaying the importance of children and the early years. Thank goodness all the lobbying and new information allowed for plans to change, so now the majority of redeployed staff have returned to practice.

The challenge now is to learn what happened to those families and to catch up with the parts of the service and support that was not delivered during lockdown and to understand the impact of what was delivered differently. We have an opportunity to make things better: to inform future workforce modelling, a rapid review is planned.

We fully expect organisations to be prepared for of a second wave. Staff should never again be faced with the dilemma of whether or not they can visit a family in need of their services or put themselves at risk.

Pay continues to be an issue for debate – we have called on the prime minister and chancellor to bring forward pay talks – the time is now.


Changing landscape in Scotland

James O’Connell, lead regional officer for Scotland

As soon as lockdown began, the Scottish Government scheduled daily meetings with the main trade unions, government officials, medical professional advisers and board managers to address the ever-changing landscape with Covid. Things seemed to change every couple of hours. The meetings covered a whole host of topics such as PPE requirements and distribution, community safety and protocols, NHS Louisa Jordan (the Scottish variant of Nightingale hospitals), testing, care home provision and mental health and wellbeing support. It also gave us the opportunity to address urgent concerns directly with the government and health boards at a national level.

The established partnership structures within the NHS in Scotland continued to meet and put in place measures to support staff further, including overtime rates for Band 8a and above, shielding guidance, student deployment and so on. The Unite Scotland health committee also met regularly to share information across all branches and boards.

The meetings have now reduced and the focus is very much on test and trace, recovery and remobilisation. Now is the time to recognise the challenges the NHS has faced through greater staffing numbers, better work/life balance and of course higher pay.

We need to continue the positive work done and to ensure our members voice is not silenced. We cannot go back to business as it was – this pandemic has clearly shown that the health and social care sector in Scotland needs a rethink and there is an opportunity to do things differently and not allow governments and boards to use this as an opportunity to cut. We must properly resource our NHS because you deserve better.

Health and safety is paramount for our members, and Unite will continue to support our members industrially, professionally and legally. Please do not hesitate to get in touch with your local rep or office to address any continued concerns. We are also supporting the mental health supportive initiative that has been launched to support staff (promis.scot). We will continue to represent and keep members updated on all developments via your local reps, branches, social media and so on. On behalf of Unite Scotland, thank you for all you do. 

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