Million Voices in Defence of the NHS

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2010 Health Care Service Group Conference
18 April 2010

Conference notes UNISON’s long-established policy of opposition and resistance to privatisation and marketisation in the NHS. We continue to lead the way in challenging government reforms that threaten to undermine the NHS through increased competition and greater private sector involvement in health care. UNISON branches and members have been at the forefront of campaigns over the last two decades and when necessary have taken industrial action to maintain a public service with hard-working, fairly-paid, in-house employment. We have mounted robust campaigns against emerging threats such as the introduction of ‘top-up’ payments, personal health budgets, and the European Union Directive on cross-border health care, which encourage a greater role for private health providers.

Conference welcomes UNISON’s flagship campaign ‘Million Voices for Public Services’ defending quality public services as the foundation for a strong economy and a fair society. The campaign was launched in response to the threat posed to public services by the economic crisis. The near collapse of the banking system, caused by reckless greed of a rich few, has caused the Government to spend billions on propping up the banks as well as supporting struggling businesses and the unemployed; while tax receipts have significantly decreased. The major political parties are now queuing up to deliver a programme of progressive austerity. This will lead to redundancies, closures, downgrading and further privatisation of NHS services, at a more aggressive rate, than we have previously experienced before.

It is vital that the NHS remains in public hands, a system based on compassion and equality, not driven by market values. The crisis in the US healthcare system where 47 million people are without health insurance, reminds us why we must defend our NHS and its founding principles.

Conference recognises that the biggest threat we currently face is from the government’s Transforming Community Services (TCS) initiative in England which is intended to maximise the role of private companies and new organisations such as social enterprises. Conference rejects absolutely the idea that better quality services can only be achieved by commercialising and outsourcing NHS functions to the private sector. NHS staff, working within an integrated, public NHS are best placed to deliver quality services, both now and in the future.

In a concerted move to challenge the government on its TCS initiative, UNISON joined forces with the NHS Together trade unions to secure a shift in government policy expressed in a statement from Secretary of State, Andy Burnham that the NHS is the preferred provider of healthcare services. This means that PCT commissioners must engage with NHS and existing providers at an early stage of service development, and they will have at least two opportunities to show they can provide the level and quality of service needed before commissioners look to alternative providers. Conference congratulates UNISON for securing this policy shift. It is now crucially important that branches, activists and members at local level are equipped and encouraged to participate in service reviews and influence local decisions as much as possible.

Conference welcomes the launch of the NHS Constitution (England) which enshrines the principles and values of the NHS in law, and sets out important rights and pledges for staff, patients and the public. Also the progress made by UNISON’s negotiators in developing the NHS ‘Staff Passport’ which will protect the interests of staff who are transferred from the NHS into new provider organisations.

Conference notes that the internal market model of health care has not been adopted in other parts of the UK. Scotland for example, has a genuine commitment to improve services through partnership working and retain those services within the NHS. Conference notes with extreme frustration that the policy direction in England is taking a very different course, due to the misguided belief that the private sector will drive up quality and improve outcomes

Conference calls upon the Service Group Executive to:

i.reaffirm UNISON’s policy of opposition and resistance to all forms of privatisation and marketisation, and continue campaigning for an NHS that is wholly owned and run by the public sector;

ii.assist branches and regions to organize local, regional and national demonstrations/days of action in defence of the NHS, to support members fighting privatization, including organizing legal industrial action where members vote for it; and encourage branches to engage in and influence service reviews so that future primary care services are retained within the NHS as part of an integrated structure;

iv.continue campaigning to protect staff rights to trade union recognition and facilities, national pay and conditions, pension rights and access to training and development;

v.campaign for an end to outsourced hospital cleaning contracts and for cleaning staff to be directly employed within the NHS and designated as valued members of the infection control team;

vi.ensure that UNISON’s devolved administrations continue their approach to defending the NHS as an integrated public service;

vii.promote closer working between the four countries of the UK to continue monitoring developments across the devolved administrations, share intelligence and highlight policies and practices which underpin the vision of an NHS that is publicly-funded and publicly delivered.

viii.continue working closely with UNISON Labour Link, GPF and other relevant NEC committees, adopting a union-wide approach to use the ‘Million Voices’ banner to campaign for a high quality NHS which is directly provided and funded by fair taxation; with the NHS Together unions to exert political pressure on the government to protect and preserve the fundamental principles of the NHS, and to value the its dedicated workforce, the overwhelming majority of which is still directly employed in the NHS; with the GPF and Labour Link to publicise the threat a Conservative government poses to our services and continue to lead the fight to defend our pay, conditions and pensions whatever government is in office.