If we are to salvage anything from the wreckage being made of the NHS, “we need to kick this government out,” UNISON’s Linda Hobson told Labour delegates in Brighton today.
She pointed out that the government’s Health and Social Care Act introduced a massive “re-disorganisastion” that no-one voted for or was told about, and put competition and markets at the heart of the NHS, chopping it up and selling it off.
Of all the contracts to provide health services awarded since April, she told conference, “21 went to the private sector and just four to the NHS”.
On top of that, “far from being protected from the cuts, the NHS has been starved of the funds it needs.
“The so-called ‘efficiency savings’, rather than being reinvested in patient care, have been clawed back by Osborne as he tries to buy votes ahead of the 2015 election,” she said.
And all this is having an effect on the health care people receive: “5,601 nurses, midwives and health visitors have been lost to the NHS since May 2010, while thousands more jobs remain under threat.
“Waiting lists are going up, targets are not being reached, and patient care is suffering. But what are the government doing about this?
And what is the government’s response? she asked.
“Their first concern is to blame everyone but themselves: whether the previous government, managers, nurses, or doctors.
“Cameron and Hunt will do anything but look in the mirror for the real culprit.
“And there is no low to which they will not sink to denigrate the NHS and its staff. Witness the shameful way they have tried to make political capital out of the tragic events at Mid Staffs hospital – rather than guaranteeing the safe staffing levels that everyone in the service knows would make a huge difference.”
Turning to Labour’s plans, she said: “UNISON supports the general direction of Andy Burnham’s proposals for ‘whole-person care’. It is right that patients and service users receive a seamless and joined-up service.
“We particularly welcome the anti-markets stance that Andy has taken in this work. Integration cannot be fostered in a climate of fragmentation and dog-eat-dog competition.
“But cultural differences between health and social care cannot be ignored. The prospect of two-tierism emerging in workplaces is not good for anyone.
“So in all of this work, the party needs to bear in mind the need to properly engage staff and service users.
“It must ensure that the terms and conditions of the social care workforce is raised up rather than those of NHS workers levelled down.
“And above all else, this cannot be done on the cheap or as a cover for cuts,” she warned.