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Unions get behind Labour pledges to NHS staff

Unions have today backed the Labour party after it pledged to axe the 1% NHS pay cap as well as reversing cuts to student bursaries.

Speaking at Unison’s Health Conference today, shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth will promise that if elected, his party will make the changes to reward “overworked and underpaid” staff working in the health service.

A number of unions representing workers from across the NHS have put their support behind Jeremy Corbyn’s manifesto points for the NHS – saying that ensuring staff satisfaction and retaining health professionals in the NHS is essential at a time when demand for services is so high.

Dr Mark Porter, BMA council chair, stated that though the NHS was a world-class health service, record waiting times, staff shortages and a shortfall in funding has led to it reaching “breaking point”.

“NHS staff will be encouraged by this understanding of the damaging impact on their morale from the years of real terms pay cuts and ongoing pay restraint that have led to vacant posts, understaffing and rota gaps,” he added.

“The NHS clearly does need more staff – there is a chronic shortage of GPs as well as doctors working in areas such as acute and emergency medicine. Fewer junior doctors are applying to train in key medical specialities across the board.

Dr Porter also mentioned that the current crisis in general practice was becoming critical to patient safety, as GPs were unable to keep up with a huge influx of patients requiring treatment under “impossible conditions”.

“Tackling this issue head on is absolutely vital if we are to provide an NHS that delivers the high-quality care patients deserve,” he stated.

And Janet Davies, chief executive and general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, said: “We have long-campaigned to scrap the 1% pay cap but nurses’ pay packets have been cut by 14% in real-terms and so more must be done to help them catch up.

“After funding for nursing students was cut in England, the number of university applications fell by almost a quarter this year.” Davies argued. “Fully-funded training would help nursing to continue to attract the best and brightest into the profession.

“It’s a political choice to increase investment in health and social care and we call on all political parties to go further and commit to the long-term funding that patients and services need.”

The Royal College of Midwives director for policy, employment relations and communications, Jon Skewes, also described Labour’s commitment to the NHS as “welcome”.

“They recognise the effort, determination and commitment on the part of our hardworking midwives and other NHS staff to deliver the safest and best possible care for those using the NHS,” he said.  

Skewes also criticised the Conservative government for its “short-sightedness” with regards to scrapping bursaries for student midwives, nurses and related professions.

“We would now want to see all parties making similar commitments to pay NHS staff fairly and staff and resource our NHS so that is can meet the demands being placed on it,” said Skewes.

However, he remained sceptical about the likelihood of Labour delivering on its promise: “It is always easy to promise the world in opposition and when campaigning in an election. Whoever is in power after the next election needs to invest in the NHS and invest in its staff.”

And Unison, who represent nearly half a million healthcare workers, also said that Labour were right to invest in the future of the NHS.

Dave Prentis, general secretary of the union, said: “NHS staff give one hundred per cent day in, day out with many doing life-saving work. Yet they’re struggling to get by on below-inflation wages.

“Lifting the 1% pay cap would give health employees a long overdue pay rise – and show them just how much they’re valued.

“A decent wages increase would also help ease the crisis in staff recruitment,” he added. “There are too few nurses, paramedics and midwives in the NHS to deliver the best care, and this is putting patients at risk.

“The NHS is a world-class institution that needs protecting, especially with Brexit looming. People should be thinking about how best to protect public services when they cast their votes in June.”

The Conservative party has immediately hit back at the policy. Tory health minister Philip Dunne said the policy was “nonsensical,” arguing that the policy would only lead to less money for the NHS.

Top Image: Jane Barlow PA Wire

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