UNISON can offer ‘vital’ security for members as Brexit continues to divide the nation

Union’s health conference opens with call to arms for difficult days ahead

The UK’s exit from the EU could be “profoundly disturbing and destabilising – not just for the economy, but for the NHS and its staff as well,” UNISON’s health conference heard today.

“The EU exit continues to divide the nation,” said health service group executive chair Roz Norman. “So it’s vital that our union continues to offer our members security at a time of great uncertainty.”

Opening the conference in Bournemouth this morning, Ms Norman told delegates that the ethos behind UNISON’s one team for patient care campaign was never more important than it was now.

“Showing unity at a time of division, championing teamwork over individualism, and recognising the essential role that everyone can play in delivering services – this is what sets us apart from squabbling politicians and incompetent government.”

A year after the Windrush scandal, Ms Norman said that the Tory government “has simply not learnt anything from that debacle.”

The “hostile environment” continues in the NHS, she said, where workload is increasing, NHS staff are told to “carry the can” for knife crime and are expected to act “as an additional wing of the immigration services” by enforcing charges for migrants.

“It’s a time of immense challenge for our health service on a number of different fronts,” she continued. “Austerity continues to drive up demand for NHS services, as cuts to social security continue to threaten the mental health of so many of our citizens and access to elective surgeries is being restricted.” And the ongoing financial squeeze on trusts is leading to a “bonanza” for the private sector.

On the plus side, UNISON membership was growing at an impressive rate, “nowhere more so” than in the health service group. The past year has also seen successful campaigns against subcos, and the agreement of a new NHS pay structure, led by UNISON.

Ms Norman said it was essential that the benefits of that deal now be rolled out for members in arms-length employers and private contractors. “The two-tier workforce is getting wider and wider. It’s only right that all staff benefit from the pay deal.”