The crisis afflicting Britain’s health services continues this week, with Unite health visitors engaged in fresh industrial action amid a backdrop of misleading NHS spending pledges from prime minister Boris Johnson.
Johnson announced an extra £1.8bn for the NHS yesterday (4 August), however it was soon revealed that just £1bn is actually ‘new’ money, prompting Labour to accuse the prime minister of “trying to treat people like fools”.
The running down and mismanagement of health services under successive Tory governments is exemplified by the steep fall in health visitors in England, with the latest figures from NHS Digital revealing the lowest number of health visitors in England since September 2012.
There were 7,694 health visitors in England in January this year, a fall of 25 per cent since their peak of more than 10,000 in October 2015 when the Health Visitor Implementation Plan came to an end.
In Lincolnshire, health visitors employed by the county council stepped up their campaign over not getting paid the rate for the job and the erosion of their professional responsibilities which could adversely impact vulnerable families.
Unite said that the 58 health visitors will be holding demonstrations in Gainsborough on Wednesday (7 August), Lincoln on Thursday (8 August) and Louth on Friday (9 August), as well as holding two more 48 hour strikes later this month – on top of nine days of strike action already taken.
The dispute centres on Unite’s calculation that its Lincolnshire health visitor members have lost more than £2,000 a year since they were transferred from the NHS to the county council in October 2017.
Unite, which embraces the Community Practitioners’ and Health Visitors’ Association (CPHVA), is also seriously concerned about the downgrading of the health visitors’ professional status, resulting in fewer staff doing the specialist health visitor role.
Unite regional officer Steve Syson said, “Our members have had tremendous support in their local communities by a public that recognises the important work they do for families and children throughout Lincolnshire.
“However, they have been met by a brick wall in the form of a council that remains intransigent, despite three meetings under the auspices of the conciliation service, Acas. The attitude of the council is immoral as it is denying our members legitimate pay rises.”
The situation facing the health visitors is reflective of problems across the health sector after years of Tory-driven cuts, pay freezes and restructuring.
Boris Johnson has cynically attempted to allay concerns over the issue – such as stating that the NHS will receive an extra £350m if the UK leaves the EU during the 2016 referendum – but his public announcements on health spending have lacked veracity.
As well as the revelation that less than half of the £1.8bn NHS funding injection is fresh money, Johnson also stated in a Sunday Times article yesterday that its deliverance will be dependent on the UK’s economic performance.
Critics, however, have pointed out that Johnson’s hard Brexit stance will hurt the UK’s economy and put the NHS at risk.
Labour’s shadow health secretary, Jonathon Ashworth MP, accused Johnson of misleading the public and NHS staff over his latest dubious pledge.
Ashworth said, “You cannot trust a word (Johnson) says and his claims are unravelling. It is now clear this is not new money, but funds already earmarked for hospitals which ministers previously blocked.
“With 4.4m patients waiting for operations and over 20,000 cancer patients waiting longer for treatment it is a disgrace that Johnson is trying to treat people like fools. After years of smash and grab cuts of £4bn to NHS budgets it is now clearer than ever that, as Johnson’s top adviser says, the Tories don’t care about our NHS.”