Unite has joined forces with other health unions to appeal to Jeremy Hunt to provide emergency NHS funding.
In an unprecedented move, the leaders of 12 trade unions sent a joint letter urging the health secretary to give the embattled health service – currently suffering its worst winter ever – a life-saving cash injection.
The letter highlighted “years of cuts to services and wages, and damaging staff shortages” as the reason for the current “acute winter health crisis”.
The leaders said the extra £1.6bn allocated in November’s Budget is not “nearly enough” and that the only reason the NHS is still running is because of the dedication of its more than one million staff.
The letter states that staff are working in “an overstretched service, for declining wages and under incredibly difficult conditions”.
The letter, on behalf of NHS staff, was signed by Unite general secretary Len McCluskey, TUC leader Frances O’Grady, Unison’s Dave Prentis and GMB head Tim Roache, as well as leaders from eight other health unions.
“Patients are stranded, treated, and sometimes dying on trolleys in corridors because wards are so overcrowded. Ambulances are queuing outside hospitals because crews are unable to hand over patients to under pressure emergency staff,” the letter to Hunt states.
“But the sad thing is this crisis isn’t a one off. It’s the direct impact of decisions from your department and by your government… Stop and listen to the people that know the NHS best. Who see with their own eyes every day how bad things have got. Fund it better and do so now, for all our sakes.”
Undergrads asked to help
And the situation is now so critical that undergraduate medical students are being asked to volunteer in hospitals.
Despite not having qualified as doctors, medical students are being urged to volunteer in struggling A&E units because of staffing shortages.
Keele University medical school head, Dr Andrew Hassell, wrote to fourth and fifth year students asking them to help tackle the NHS’ “national crisis” by volunteering at local hospitals and GP surgeries, emails obtained by the Guardian show.
Unite national officer for health, Sarah Carpenter, said the fact that unqualified medical students are being asked to volunteer on wards to alleviate the crisis “underscores the need for the intervention by Unite and the other NHS trade unions”.
“Heaping this kind of pressure on undergraduate students isn’t fair to them or the public,” Carpenter said.
“It is no exaggeration to call this an emergency that is severely compromising patient care. The NHS is understaffed and under-resourced and the staff who are keeping it running in the face of enormous challenges are being pushed to breaking point for a pittance.”
She added, “There can no more excuses or platitudes from government. It must provide urgently needed funds before this crisis become irreversible.”