Across the UK, the NHS is facing a series of threats more serious than at any time in its 65-year history.
In England the disastrous Health and Social Care Act is pushing the NHS towards becoming a full-scale market. Although the devolved nations have generally avoided such a damaging path, there are still pressures on them to privatise services – particularly at a time of unprecedented financial constraint.
The NHS in England has been charged with somehow finding £20bn of cuts by 2015. The government’s attempt to portray the cuts as “efficiency savings” that would be reinvested in patient care has been exposed as a myth; the Treasury clawed back £1bn of the £1.4bn saved by the NHS in the past year.
Although health spending is a devolved matter, the financial situation in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland is also extremely tight. The Cameron government’s misguided austerity policies mean that all parts of the UK are feeling the pain of the longest economic crisis since the Second World War. In Scotland the NHS has received an increase in funding but this has been cancelled out by the demand on local boards to make efficiency savings. In Wales the NHS has received a “flat cash” settlement, in effect a real terms decrease in funding and in Northern Ireland the NHS is meant to save 6% per annum for the next three years.
As a result, healthcare staff are finding that services and jobs are being lost or threatened, with some employers also looking to use the financial situation as a means of attacking staff pay, terms and conditions. These threats will have an adverse effect on patients.
UNISON believes that patients must always come before money and our priority is to make sure that the NHS is safe for patients and staff.
UNISON’s Our NHS Our Future campaign attempts to pull together these various strands in fighting cuts and privatisation across the UK. This online toolkit draws on lots of advice UNISON has produced but summarises it and signposts to other resources.