'There is a lot to be won'

10 January 2022

A New Year message from Unite general secretary Sharon Graham.

The burdens that Unite-CPHVA members carry have been intense in recent years, especially since the start of the pandemic. For years we have seen a vicious circle in your professions in which you are increasingly overworked, under-rewarded and spread too thinly. Of course, when jobs are made less attractive, more people leave and fewer people want to enter the professions. The pressures then get worse and the problems intensify. This has been going on for some time – especially in England.

Then add Covid-19 to the mix. You have seen dramatic rises in domestic violence, abuse, mental health issues and substance abuse. The needs of children and young people during the pandemic have been particularly acute. Unite-CPHVA members have been on the frontline of this crisis. You have had to cope with the stress and dangers to your own health of Covid-19 – especially those black, Asian and ethnic minority workers among you who are at higher risk. And just as the need for your professional skills was at a high point, the pandemic saw many of you redeployed, making staff shortages worse and increasing workloads yet further.

This cycle has to end. In this light, the recent English NHS pay award is a tragic mistake. A below-inflation pay rise is a pay cut, and the way the deal was structured has meant many staff actually received even less in cash terms. We know that when you are given the capacity and time to intervene and assist people with their difficulties at an early stage – before they escalate – you not only save lives, but save public money. But how can you attract new people to understaffed professions on the back of pay cuts?

The recent english nhs pay award is a tragic mistake. A below-inflation pay rise is a pay cut, and has meant many staff actually received less in cash terms

Imminent attacks

The Health and Care Bill is also a real concern. The way it has been drafted shows how it can be used to further run down the NHS and to bring in more privatisation by the back door. It will also lay the path for lower standards of care and further attacks on the pay and conditions of NHS staff. Breaking up the NHS in England into 42 local, integrated care ‘systems’, each based on an austerity-friendly business model, will only make things worse – especially if so-called alternative provider medical services get to cherry-pick services and undermine current working practices.

I know these are issues that Unite’s health sector is already working hard on. And the politicians and heads of NHS trusts must be left in no doubt that they will be held to account on this.

As we move towards the new combines that I am introducing [where reps are brought together by industry or sector], you the members will have even more control over how you take this fight forward. I will make sure that you get all the resources and assistance that you need to fight for better jobs, pay and conditions in your profession. So, if you are not active in the union yet, please get involved – support your reps and maybe become one if you can. There is a lot to be won. Health visitors, school nurses, nursery nurses and community nurses must be well-respected, properly resourced and attractive jobs again – for all our sakes.

Image credit | Shutterstock

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