Addressing UNISON’s annual health conference in Liverpool today (Monday), general secretary Christina McAnea said:
“The pandemic proved just how much we all need the NHS and the incredible staff who work in it.
“Yet both the prime minister and the chancellor are guilty of taking health workers for granted.
“Over the last two years, health staff have lost colleagues, patients, family members and friends to the virus, and worked under an unbelievable amount of pressure.
“The work, dedication and sacrifice that has been expected of health workers by governments during the pandemic has been unprecedented. But all too often their work has been unsupported and unrewarded.
“Only a few weeks ago Conservative MP Michael Fabricant suggested that health staff regularly broke Covid rules in a shameful attempt to justify the prime minister’s lockdown law-breaking.
“He’s since had to apologise after UNISON wrote pointing out just how demoralising and offensive his comments were.
“The reality is health workers were saving lives and protecting people. Some health workers moved out of their homes and away from their families.
“Most worked extra hours and took on more intense workloads. Alongside dealing with Covid patients, they’ve also rolled out a successful vaccine and booster programme, have been caring for patients with other illnesses, and taking on the backlog.
“All of this is being undermined by the political choices the government is making. Not only do ministers undermine health employees’ work by underfunding the NHS, they undermine it by forcing workers into a cost of living crisis.
“It’s a political choice that keeps pay down and pushes workloads up. It’s also a political choice to increase national insurance contributions for working people, and to decide not to give health and other essential employees a decent pay rise.
“It would cost around £10 billion to give all public sector workers a decent pay increase – that’s a lot of money for sure.
“But around £8 billion was spent on useless safety kit, and £4.5 billion was claimed fraudulently by employers and companies in fake Covid grants.
“Eye-watering profits were made on lucrative contracts – in many cases by companies where government ministers and their families had a vested interest. And not a lot is being done to get this money back.
“The government is now even paying waste disposal companies £35 million to burn the useless protective equipment.
“For the first time since records began, more people are dissatisfied with the NHS than are happy with it. The public still supports the NHS and its founding principles, but they can see that we’re back in the bad old days before 1997.
“That means record-breaking waiting lists, record numbers of patients waiting more than 12 hours in A&E, record cancer treatment waits, and record numbers of staff resigning.
“The government must not be allowed to destroy the health service. More money is needed in the NHS for better pay for health staff and to end privatisation by stealth.
“The NHS is buckling after years of underfunding. The pandemic has made everything worse. The gigantic backlog is forcing many sick people to go private. But that spells disaster for anyone without the means to pay for it.”
Notes to editors:
-UNISON’s health conference takes place this week in Liverpool. Topics to be debated include pay and the cost of living, ambulance pressures, ambulance uniforms, parking charges and mileage, a 35-hour working week, NHS staffing levels and long Covid. The full agenda can be found here.
-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.