Invest in the health workforce and public services to learn pandemic lessons

Keynote speech renews call for immediate pandemic inquiry

Proper investment in the NHS workforce and run-down public services, as well as the creation of a national care service, are key to the UK’s pandemic recovery, says UNISON today (Monday).

In her keynote speech to UNISON’s virtual heath conference this afternoon, UNISON general secretary Christina McAnea renewed her call for an immediate public inquiry to hold those accountable for the mistakes, poor decisions and profiteering made during the past 18 months.

Christina McAnea said: “The government’s shockingly bad planning, lack of foresight and slow reaction to the unfolding tragedy, is quite frankly unforgiveable.

“Boris Johnson skipped five Cobra meetings on coronavirus. What would happen if any health worker skipped five shifts, or important meetings to plan patient care, or to prepare for a major event?

A public inquiry is urgently needed. It must be properly independent, must start now, and must investigate the impact on black, disabled and women workers, and the high death rates for staff in low-paid jobs.

“It must focus on the lack of preparedness, and how a decade of damaging austerity hindered the ability of public services to respond to the crisis.

“Workers in vital services were already running on empty. There must be answers because if lessons aren’t learned from these mistakes, they risk being repeated.

“Health staff who work for private contractors, or the voluntary sector, should have the same pay rates and benefits as NHS staff. The services they provide must come back into the NHS. And the pressure kept up on private contractors to pay the right rates for the job.

“Look at the impact in social care – so inextricably linked to the NHS. A broken system, failing to give elderly and disabled people the care they need. And failing to give care workers the pay they deserve.

“Boris Johnson has no real plan for social care. The government must come up with real, far-reaching reform.

“A real national care service is needed, not the piecemeal, bargain basement offerings so far. There must be a dedicated workforce strategy, one to mirror the people plan in the NHS.

“The virus has shown who can really be depended upon when the chips are down. It’s not the management consultants, the big outsourcing companies or the Conservative government. It’s public service workers and NHS staff.

“If there are any lessons that can be learned from the pandemic, it’s that no society can survive without reliable and sustainable public services, or the dedication and commitment of the workers providing them.

“The UK is now at a major economic and moral crossroads. Now is the time to call for a new deal for working people and public services.

“That means new employment rights, ending the worst practices of fire and rehire, and sustainable investment in public services.

“The government needs to see public services as a driver of the economy, not a drain on society. They’re an essential part of the UK’s infrastructure.”

Notes to editors:
– UNISON is the UK’s largest union with more than 1.3 million members providing public services in education, local government, the NHS, police service and energy. They are employed in the public, voluntary and private sectors.

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