Staffing Levels

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2004 Health Care Service Group Conference
5 January 2004

Conference deplores the cost cutting measures employed within NHS Hospital and Primary Care Trusts which have resulted in falling staff levels in wards, departments and community services throughout the Health Service.

Low staffing levels result in increased ill health absences which only exacerbates the situation for those staff still at work. Moreover, staff are often required to undertake tasks inappropriate both to their level of training and their job descriptions.

Conference is also concerned at the increasing use of short term funding for so-called projects, with staff employed on temporary or fixed term contracts. This has a detrimental effect on both staff and the services provided. The staff have insecure employment, and there is inevitably high turnover leading to a loss of continuity of staff and continuing pressure on permanent staff. The patients also suffer from lack of continuity and/or from raised expectations which cannot be met when a service is discontinued. It is noticeable that many of these projects are aimed at the most vulnerable people in society: asylum seekers and refugees, people whose first language is not English (such as link worker and interpretation schemes), people on low income, unemployed people or manual workers (such as health promotion projects).

In addition new sickness monitoring targets set by government mean that hard-pressed UNISON members have to undergo the further ordeal of sickness monitoring meetings with line managers when they return to work.

Conference therefore calls upon our national negotiators to: information on staffing levels across the country to assess the current situation;

ii.enter discussions both with NHS Employers and the Government to set criteria for minimum acceptable staffing levels, which take account of Improving Working Lives and also reflects the complexity and changing condition of patients illness;

iii.ensure that funding is available for backfill staffing where necessary;

iv.issue guidelines to branches on legal rights for workers on temporary or fixed term contracts, and on how to negotiate for short term funded projects to be taken into mainstream funding of services;

v.persuade the Government to abandon unrealistic sickness performance targets currently in place.