NHS heroes in fight back stand

Despite 500 NHS and care workers dying in the line of duty, Unite NHS members are now having to take action for their pay, their jobs and their very futures

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As NHS workers from across London prepare to march to Downing Street this evening (July 29) to demand an early pay rise, a new poll has shown that an overwhelming majority of the British public backs their calls.

The new poll out today (July 29) found that 73 per cent of the public supports a ‘significant’ pay rise for NHS workers before the end of the year, with only 10 per cent saying health staff should wait until April next year. An even smaller minority – 6 per cent – said the government should postpone a wage increase until it thinks it is appropriate.

The latest survey adds more weight behind the growing movement to see NHS staff properly rewarded for all the hard work they’ve done amid the pandemic, in the process risking their own lives. To date more than 500 health and social care workers have died after contracting coronavirus in the line of duty.

This is why Unite and other health unions are calling for pay talks to be brought forward instead of waiting until April when the Agenda for Change pay deal expires and the government has said they will review NHS pay.

A majority of NHS staff were left out a public sector pay rise announced last week by the Treasury, with doctors and dentists being the only health staff who received a pay rise of 2.8 per cent. This means nurses, paramedics, cleaners, porters and many more vital health staff have all been left out of pay reward despite their efforts in tackling the pandemic.

Broken its promise

As UniteLIVE highlighted on Tuesday (July 29), even the government’s own supporters overwhelmingly back a pay rise for NHS workers, with almost 4 in 10 Tory voters saying the government ‘will have broken its promise’ if it doesn’t give health workers a pay rise.

This evening’s socially-distanced march will take place from 6pm, where the Unite branch at Guy’s and St Thomas Hospital will lead the way, marching from St Thomas Hospital, Westminster Bridge Road, SE1 7EH to Downing Street. They will be joined by NHS staff across London.

“We have called this demonstration to express the anger that so many of our members feel at the government’s derisory treatment of NHS staff,” explained Unite branch secretary Mark Boothroyd.

“After all our sacrifice during the pandemic, to exclude us from the pay deal and make us wait till April 2021 is a slap in the face, and our members are going to Downing Street to tell Boris Johnson this directly.”

NHS heroes face sack by outsourcing firm

In addition to failing to get a pay rise, some of the nation’s heroes working in the NHS – despite their hard work during the pandemic – now face being sacked. About 100 catering workers who work at Barts Health NHS Trust employed by outsourcing firm Elior were told by their employer that they will face redundancy.

Unite said that 30 of its members at the trust employed by Elior are devastated, after nearly half of them were told they would lose their jobs and those remaining will have their hours cut by 10 per cent.

Unite has told the trust management that it wants its members redeployed within the trust that covers four major hospital sites in London, serving 2.5 million people.

Unite, once again, highlighted the flawed nature of NHS privatisation; as Elior, which runs the restaurants and coffee shops, is sacking staff, another outsourcer Serco, which supplies meals to patients on the wards, is currently recruiting.

Unite regional officer Ruth Hydon said, “The trust management needs to step in urgently to save the jobs of our hardworking members, who have fed NHS staff day and night during this pandemic.

“It is a disgrace that the trust is allowing profit-hungry Elior to throw our members on the scrapheap after all they have done. Some of our members have worked at the Barts trust for nearly 30 years – and this is very shabby reward for their loyalty,” she added.

Zero Covid-19 strategy call

Meanwhile in other health news, more than 200 health and social care workers are calling on the government to take action with a coherent Covid-19 strategy to end needless deaths from the virus.

The health and care staff, who come from across the entire spectrum of specialties and grades of staff, including professors, consultants, GPs, nurses, therapists, administration staff, theatre porters, paediatricians, psychiatrists and mental health nurses, among many others, have signed an open letter organised by Doctors in Unite (DiU) and addressed to prime minister Boris Johnson.

In the letter, the signatories have argued that there is a clear choice, between mitigation of the virus – that is accepting ongoing infections and deaths indefinitely until a vaccine or cure is found — or suppression, which would aim to eliminate the virus.  The letter says that the latter course clearly represents the best strategy in terms of both public health and protecting the economy.

The letter reads, “This means having a much more ambitious target of suppressing the number of new cases to zero as soon as possible, and keeping it there.  This requires continuing public health measures, such as maintaining social distancing, universal use of face masks in enclosed spaces, sensible travel restrictions, and setting up countrywide community based, efficient and rapid ‘find, test, trace, isolate and support’ infrastructure across the country, including at our borders. 

“If done effectively and comprehensively this would successfully suppress the virus in a matter of weeks, and then keep it there,” the letter continued.

Dr Jackie Applebee, chair of Doctors in Unite (DiU), which spearhead the letter, explained why a coherent strategy – instead of government slogans like “stay alert”, “control the virus” and “whac-a-mole” – were so vital now.

“We cannot continue to drift on this rudderless course any longer,” she said. “Flare ups like Leicester and in the meat and poultry packing plants show the dangers of this approach and if there are enough of these there will be a second wave, forcing us all back into lockdown.” 

“Independent [scientific advisory group] SAGE have called for a ‘Zero Covid’ strategy,” she added. “It is perfectly possible to suppress the virus in England as they have done in Scotland, with the right approach. For that to happen though we need an effective test, trace, isolate and support service, based in the community and run by directors of public health, not the ineffective privatised and separate service we have now.”

You can read the full letter here. And stay tuned on UniteLIVE tomorrow morning for coverage from this evening’s protest.

By Hajera Blagg

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