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Unite calls on peers to put NHS patients and staff before private sector in bid to halt assault on NHS in England

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Unite the union is calling on members of the House of Lords to back amendments to the Health and Care Bill that would remove some of the worst aspects of legislation that will destabilise and fracture the NHS in England. With the staffing crisis in the NHS and care services, record high waiting lists and the lowest bed provision in Europe, Unite believes this is the worst Bill, at the worst possible time, and does nothing to address the crisis in health services.

The union, which represents over 100,000 health workers across all occupations and professional groups, has been leading the campaign to oppose the Bill, working alongside campaign organisations including Health Campaigns Together, Keep Our NHS Public and Your NHS Needs You and celebrities including Stephen Fry, Francesca Martinez and David Tennant.

Meeting with peers this week, as the Bill returned to the Lords for committee scrutiny, Unite made clear its outright opposition to its catastrophic measures and the harm they will do to patients and staff.

Unite did however welcome the determination of the members of the Lords who attended the briefing to ameliorate its worst aspects, protect the NHS and put patients first at this unprecedented time.

Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said, “The Health and Care Bill is being used to further run down the NHS and to bring in more privatisation by the back door. It will also lay the path for lower standards of care and further attacks on the pay and conditions of NHS staff, at a time when our members are already coping with unacceptable conditions.

“Staffing levels are dangerously low, waiting lists are at unprecedented highs, and morale is rock bottom, yet ministers want to impose real-terms pay cuts,” she added.

“We will ramp up resources to defend our health sector members and oppose these unnecessary attacks.”

Lords’ amendments Unite is supporting seek to:

Oppose the payment scheme. The unclear nature of the payment scheme and the way it is set out will lead to variability of payments by area, patient and provider characteristics. As it stands, the Bill has a requirement for NHS England to consult with the private sector on what to charge in the payment scheme.

Pay, terms and conditions. There is serious concern that the Bill will undermine collective agreements on staff pay, terms and conditions. Unite supports a number of amendments seeking to protect NHS pay, terms and conditions and to improve those for social care staff.

Private sector. Unite is strongly opposed to private sector involvement in the NHS and the Bill opens the health service to further risks of privatisation and conflicts of interest within the system. In particular, private providers should not be in decision-making bodies, they should not be setting prices and they should not be able to win contracts without paying UK tax and without full transparency and accountability. Several amendments seek to remove, limit and regulate private sector involvement.

Remove the Social Care Cap. This cap was widely criticised when the government narrowly won the vote to introduce it in the Commons last year. The cap hits the lowest paid hardest and means more people will be paying far more towards the cost of care than they may have expected. Amendments seek to remove the cap.

Unite national officer Jacalyn Williams said, “A number of amendments proposed by peers seek to remove some of the worst aspects of this Bill. Unite will be supporting progressive amendments but fundamentally believes the Bill, even if amended, should be opposed in its entirety when it returns to the House of Commons.

“There could not be a worse time for the government to be trying to push through a complete reorganisation of the NHS and social care while the NHS is in crisis,” she added. “The Covid-19 pandemic has exposed the deep and widening health inequalities that already existed pre-pandemic. With new critical incidents declared daily, all the focus of this government should be on stability and recovery instead.”

By Jennie Walsh

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