NHS staff ‘undermined by political decisions’, says McAnea

General secretary tells health conference that deliberate Conservative choices have created the cost of living crisis

Christina McAnea addressing UNISON's 2022 health conference

Christina McAnea brought UNISON’s health conference to its feet this afternoon, as she tore into the Westminster government’s record on funding the NHS, and on its handling of COVID-19.

“The pandemic proved just how much we all need the NHS and the incredible staff who work in it,” she said, “yet both the prime minister and the chancellor still take it for granted.”

Celebrating the work done by the whole NHS team – and the general secretary included her own recent experience of surgery – she said that the extraordinary work the NHS does is “undermined by the political choices that governments make.

“Not only do they undermine your work by underfunding the NHS, they undermine it by forcing workers into the cost of living crisis.

“And I use the word ‘forcing’ deliberately, because it’s a political choice that keeps your pay down and pushes your workloads up.

“It’s a political choice to increase National Insurance contributions for working people and to force household bills to sky rocket.

“It’s a political choice to decide not to give you and other essential workers a decent pay rise.

Ms McAnea went on to point out that, while it would cost “around £10 billion to give all public service workers a decent pay increase”, approximately £8 billion had been spent on “useless PPE”, around £4.5 billion had been claimed fraudulently by employers and companies in fake COVID grants and £35 million is being spent to dispose of that useless PPE.

The Tory blame game

The government’s attempts to “deflect by blaming staff or blaming GPs” or claim that delays and the backlog of cases are because of structural NHS faults, are ones that “too many Tory MPs are happy to run with. And their solution? Give more money to the private sector.”

And on the Tory blame game, she condemned the “shameful” attempt by Conservative MP Michael Fabricant to justify the lockdown lawbreaking of the prime minister and chancellor by suggesting that health staff had done the same.

Turning to the chair of the health service group executive, she said: “The next time Roz Norman and I get to meet [health secretary] Sajid Javid – and he has asked for a meeting – how about it Roz; you and I’ll turn up as Patsy and Eddie from Ab Fab, with a glass of champagne in our hands ,saying we’ve just come from an NHS party!”

And the roars of laughter increased when she added: “Even better … we’ll take Angela Rayner with us!” in reference to the previous day’s sexist claims by anonymous Tory MPs in the Mail on Sunday, that the UNISON member and deputy leader of the Labour Party tried to upset Boris Johnson by crossing and uncrossing her legs when sitting opposite him in Parliament.

“Tory ministers have to stop watching Carry On films,” Ms McAnea added, dryly.

Returning to the cost of living crisis, she stressed that UNISON “will be taking to the streets, along with our sister unions in the TUC, for a national march and rally in June, to demand action on the crisis”, with the union urging as many members as possible to get to London or to regional events that day.

But she also had a message for delegates about internal democracy within the union, calling on them not only to ensure that they all vote in the forthcoming service group elections, but to make sure that all their members vote too.

She also announced that the UNISON College is now open. “I want UNISON to be a place where members can prosper and activists can be supported,” she said.

“Where training and education is not just about being an activist, but about helping people’s lives and work.”

The new branch support and organising fund will help to ensure that branches and activists deal with the issues they need to – not decided by the general secretary herself, or by the union’s NEC or the service groups, “but what you decide”.

And Ms McAnea concluded by stressing that nobody should forget that “we are a force to be reckoned with. Don’t let anyone tell you that we’re not. Never underestimate that, conference.” The hall stood to applaud her.

members stand to applaud at end of Christina McAnea's speech to health conference 2022