UNISON condemns Blair for breaking NHS promise

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UNISON Head of Health, Karen Jennings, has condemned Labour government plans to allow private treatment centres to poach NHS staff, breaking a Labour government pledge to UNISON and the other NHS trade unions.

She said: ‘The government guaranteed us that private sector treatment centres would have to sign up to a “no poaching clause” prohibiting them from poaching or engaging health care professionals currently working in the NHS or who have done so in the last six months.

‘Yesterday’s announcement, using language such as “opening up opportunity for all health staff” is just a smokescreen for the fact that the government has decided to break that promise.

‘This is a very dangerous, damaging and divisive move. We have enough problems with recruitment and retention in the NHS without private treatment centres being able to come in and cream off top NHS staff.’

The government has broken its pledge at the same time as it is advertising throughout the world for private medical companies to come to Britain and take up government NHS contracts to provide private health care for NHS patients.

Not only will these companies be consuming large chunks of the NHS budget, they will now be able to use that money to poach and hire NHS staff, helping to create a two-tier NHS, with a flourishing private sector.

As it is, Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt is to caution dozens of hospital administrators about their deficits after the unaudited accounts for 2004-5 showed that the NHS had a £140 million deficit.

In her letter to the ‘worst performing NHS trusts’, Hewitt warned them that they would not be bailed out. Now, with the private sector able to poach their staff they will be driven over the edge, deemed to be failed hospitals, and be offered up for take-over by the private sector.

While the private sector is being bank-rolled, NHS hospitals are to be cut, cut and cut again.

The latest cuts scheme is outlined in the just published government review of the ambulance service.

In the past period the ambulance service has faced tough targets to be achieved for the times required to get to 999 callers, and then get them to hospital.

This latest review has found that this is all old hat, and was a false concern. The new truth is that ambulances are taking one million people to NHS A&E departments annually that have no need to go there. The report finds that 25 per cent of A&E patients are just taking up much needed space!

This means that large numbers of ambulances can be scrapped or mothballed, and A&E staff cut, provided the one million patients can be prevented from getting to the A&Es.

The force to do this job is to be the current ambulance staff, with its members renamed as Emergency Care Practitioners (ECP). They will decide whether a 999 call merits an ambulance or whether the attendance to the casualty on a motor bike or in a car will suffice.

The patient will be seen by an ECP, and if he considers that the phone diagnosis is correct, the patient will be treated in his or her home, or simply be referred to a GP.

If their diagnosis is wrong then the patient may die, and there will be such cases – but then Labour considers that this is a price worth paying for the considerable savings to be made in ambulances, staff and A&E staff.

‘Emergency Care Practitioners’ are to have the power of life or death, after some rudimentary training which is deemed sufficient for them both to diagnose patients problems and treat conditions with whatever drugs or whatever techniques are required.

This is New Labour’s dumbed down, and two tier NHS under construction, with the private sector gaining strength all the time, like a leech off its back.

Unions like UNISON must not just scream ‘betrayal’, they must take action to save the NHS and smash the plan to privatise it. This can only be done by bringing down the Blair government and bringing in a workers’ government pledged to socialist policies.