Health conference takes on a packed final morning

Business ranges from support for migrant healthcare workers to ambulance uniforms

One Team branding on the health conference set

On the final morning of UNISON’s national health conference, delegates in Liverpool began by observing a minute’s silence for International Workers’ Memorial Day, remembering those who have died as a result of their work, and re-dedicating themselves to the fight for improved health and safety.

Proposing a motion on the international recruitment and support for migrant healthcare workers, on behalf of the nursing and midwifery occupational group, Gamu Nyasoro described how she came to the UK from Zimbabwe, got a bursary to study as a nurse and moved to live in the West Midlands.

She had conference laughing with her memories of not understanding local slang, before getting more serious when commenting on the racism she faced and stressing the support that is needed for nurses recruited from outside the UK.

Flora from Northern Ireland built on the theme, highlighting the problem of international nurses being charged substantial sums of money if they dare to leave their contracts, no matter how bad those contracts are.

Working tirelessly for the team

Alan Fallson from the nursing and midwifery occupational group, introduced a motion on recognition and rewards for peer/lived experienced workers in mental health services.

These workers’ role is framed by making constructive use of personal experiences of their own mental health difficulties and vulnerabilities.

Paul Leek stressed that, if the health team is “one team”, then it needs to ensure that it finds a way to fully support peer/lived experienced workers.

Alison Jones for Staffordshire community health branch talked of the peer/lived experienced workers who “work tirelessly for our team” and for clients who need to “turn their lives around”.

Conference agreed to urge the service group executive to:

  • commit the nursing sector to a piece of work to shape UNISON’s response to the employment needs of such staff;
  • work with stakeholder organisations to develop the education, training and supervision requirements appropriate for this group.

‘The staffing crisis affects us all’

Saying that “the staffing crisis in the NHS affects us all”, Ruby Miller for the science, therapy and technical occupational group spoke to delegates about the need to support the allied health professionals (AHP) workforce.

She called for the union to ensure that the work of AHPs is valued and that they have training and development opportunities across the devolved nations.

Conference voted to support such moves.

Ronnie Nicholson, of the operational services occupational group, introduced a motion on fair jobs for admin staff – on what was, by happy coincidence, Admin Professionals Day.

He told delegates: “It’s not just enough to fight against attacks on jobs – some of our energy must be spent on making jobs better.”

Admin staff make the NHS effective, he added, yet “we often hear from admin staff that there is no plan for their development and career”.

Conference called on the executive to:

  • lead an occupation-focused campaign to improve admin jobs, in terms of career progression and fair pay;
  • research the skills, knowledge and experience that are likely to be needed in the future, in order to guard against outsourcing and to help ensure the fair grading of posts.

Over-worked and poorly clothed

Geoff Pitman, for the East of England Ambulance branch, said that ambulance crews often work for up to 18 hours a day.

He also spoke about their current uniform, which is “absolutely diabolical”. Having been part of a task force to look at the uniform, he had heard from many colleagues on the problem. “People were having to order sizes two, three, four sizes too big – and then cut parts down to make them fit”, he explained.

Delegates agreed that the executive should raise the issue with the NHS Ambulance Service and campaign for uniforms to be changed to meet the physical requirements of all staff, but also the statutory health and safety duties of employers.

A motion from Lanarkshire called for public health services to be “fit for purpose in a post-pandemic future”, and saw delegates condemn the UK government’s decisions to dial down contact tracing and more.

It was agreed that there was a need to recognise that the country will have to have “COVID measures in place for much longer” and that contact tracing – run by public health teams rather than by multinationals – should be properly invested in, with staff recognised and also recruited into UNISON.