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2010 Health Care Service Group Conference
11 December 2009
Carried as Amended

The NHS Staff Survey, the everyday experience of UNISON members and representatives, and the continuing increase in work-related stress all show that one of the most widespread problems faced by UNISON members is the issue of excessive workloads and shortages of staff. These problems occur across all staff groups, both in direct delivery of patient care and in all clerical and support services. They can arise where staffing establishments are cut, or aren’t increased in line with workload; where vacancies are left unfilled; where sickness and leave are not covered, and because of ‘efficiency savings’.

The national policy landscape shows that spending on the NHS is likely to face years of being reduced in real terms – yet no political parties acknowledge the extreme difficulties in maintaining current levels of NHS activity. The consequence of this, cascaded down to ward and shop floor level, will be staff shortages and workloads that are increasingly excessive – and often impossible to achieve.

UNISON is to be commended for its national campaigning against cuts in public spending. However, this needs to be complemented by improved support to groups of members and their branch representatives on the shop floor in resisting and objecting to excessive and ‘impossible’ workloads and shortages of staff.

Conference calls on the SGE to build on existing UNISON guidance and on good practice in branches and regions to produce materials to help members and branches in this as soon as is practicable.

This guidance should be based on the following principles:

· that UNISON members are hardworking people who are prepared to give 100% at work but that they should not be expected to achieve the impossible;

· that it is management, where they fail to provide enough staffing to manage the workload, who should carry responsibility for resulting failures of service delivery;

· that overwork/understaffing is a Health and Safety issue; and that members and branches need effective systems and organisation in holding employers to account on Health and Safety;

· that overwork/understaffing can often also impact (actually or potentially) on the safe care of patients, and that in these cases registered professionals are required under their professional codes to report their concerns to the employer. Members and Branches need support in improving employers’ systems for enabling, recording and addressing these concerns about clinical risks and ensuring that managers cannot escape accountability when they fail to address reported concerns.

. that management have a responsibility to assess current and future workloads and to ensure that staffing establishments are sufficient to meet demand in clinical, clerical and support services..

. that where employers identify “minimum safe staffing levels” this should be done with the involvement of the staff and representatives concerned, and in such cases employers must hae arrangements in place for covering annual leave, sickness, maternity leave and facancies so that staffing never falls below the accepted minimum.

. that involving shop floor workers and representatives in decisions about service delivery has a proven record of improving services to patients and increasing productivity – by streamlining processes rather than by ‘slave-driving.’