UNISON delegates in Brighton today spoke in defence of an NHS that is “under almost constant attack” from the Tory-led government.
Health members were told to expect to ballot on industrial action over pay later this year.
The NEC’s James Anthony said that for NHS staff who were already “struggling and feeling under-valued”, health secretary Jeremy Hunt’s belief that they “aren’t even worth a measly 1%” added insult to injury.
“UNISON is the union at the forefront of the campaign for the NHS,” he added. “We won’t be telling our members that going on strike is abandoning your patients. We will be leading our members to campaign for their pay, and for their patients and services.”
This morning’s debate came as news broke that the NHS in England faces a funding gap of up to £2bn, for the next financial year.
Mr Anthony told delegates that the NHS has “once again” been voted the best health service in the world, by the Commonwealth Foundation.
But this was despite the fact that the service is “still reeling from the destructive reorganisation” imposed by the health and social care bill, from wholesale privatization – with £13bn worth of NHS contracts advertised in England in the past 12 months – and from the devastating budget shortfalls.
“As the general election nears, we must ensure that the NHS remains the top issue in the election,” he said.
“But we’re not about to sit back and wait for an election, there are battles to be fought now.” He spoke of the “inspiration” to be derived from the successful campaign to halt the privatisation of George Eliot Hospital.
Dawn Downes, the branch secretary of George Eliot, told delegates that the government’s attempts to dismantle the NHS meant that “we are not just losing our heritage, we are losing our humanity.
“But at George Elliot UNISON showed how people power and people pressure can help to write our own narrative.”
A number of members spoke of the need to ensure that any integration of health with social care should retain the NHS principle of services being free at the point of delivery.
Jackie Lewis of the national LGBT committee said: “Integration has significantly moved up the political agenda. Integration has potential benefits – but only if it’s done well and not done on the cheap.
“It can’t be a cover for cuts – and it’s looking like the ConDems are planning to do just that.”
Many speakers condemned the “scandal” of PFI. And many were concerned at the “sinister” request from the Department of Health that the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) take into account a patient’s “future societal contribution” when deciding the provision of medication.
Delegates agreed of the importance alongside national campaigning for “local battles” against specific closures and outsourcing – with the Save Lewisham Hospital Campaign in London cited as another positive example of the union working with the community to save services.