‘THIS IS bad news for staff and for patients,’ Unison’s head of health Sara Gorton has warned. ‘The changes are built on savings from employing new recruits on worse pay, conditions and pension scheme, as well as slashing the trust’s VAT liability.
‘Privatisation at Chesterfield Royal Hospital will drive out staff and is a worrying sign for the future.’
Responding to the transfer of more than 700 staff at Chesterfield Royal Hospital Trust – which is in Derbyshire – to a new private arm’s-length company this week, Gorton continued:
‘The money will almost certainly not go into the pockets of staff, who need it most. The effect will be that more of our experienced staff leave an overstretched service, and that putting the service outside the NHS will have a longer-term impact on patient care.
‘It is a worrying pointer that the new NHS improvement assessment process will effectively just be a rubber-stamp for further fragmentation of the health service.’
Unison regional organiser Carol Brown added: ‘This is a sad day not only for service users of Chesterfield Royal Hospital, but for the dedicated staff who will be transferred out of their beloved NHS into a private company.
‘The Trust has decided to go down this route and sell off its staff to save money.
‘By lowering the standard of living for new staff in the area, it will have a knock-on effect on their spending power in local shops. We don’t want Chesterfield to turn into charity and pound-shop land, but when people have limited disposable income that’s what happens to town centres.’
- At the same time, however, a new ‘charter’ has set out what it advocates as the ‘role for volunteers in supporting the NHS’.
The charter, and its proposal that volunteers can make a ‘valuable’ contribution to the NHS in England ‘without undermining paid staff or affecting patient safety’, has just been launched by Helpforce with the support of a number of NHS trade unions.
It argues that ‘volunteers can make a valuable contribution to the NHS in England without undermining paid staff or affecting patient safety … The aim is to ensure that the tens of thousands of people who give up their time to provide comfort and help to patients are given guidance about their roles.
‘It’s also intended to safeguard against their use as cheap substitutes for trained health staff.
‘There are an estimated 78,000 volunteers providing help and support to patients in hospitals across England. This might include running book clubs, talking to patients to relieve anxiety and loneliness, or taking them for walks in the hospital grounds.
‘The charter aims to reassure staff and helpers alike with guidelines that fit within the NHS long-term plan. It sets clear boundaries for the managers of volunteer services and encourages them to work with health employees to develop roles that support the patient experience, without undermining paid staff.
‘The guidance sets out to reassure healthcare workers who might be worried about the commitment in the NHS long-term plan to increase volunteering. There are concerns extra helpers could be confusing for patients and relatives, mask workforce shortages and put volunteers under pressure to perform staff roles.
‘The charter recognises that volunteers can help make a patient’s stay in hospital more pleasant, provide valuable support to staff and have a positive impact on the lives of people giving up their free time to the NHS.
‘Individual trusts will now be urged to adopt the principles.’
Among the key principles enshrined in the charter are:
- Volunteers should not undermine paid staff, with essential care tasks reserved for health employees.
- No volunteers to be included in the workforce numbers for individual trusts and they must be clearly identified as volunteers.
- Unions will monitor how volunteers are used within organisations, with patient safety and confidentiality the primary concern.
Chair of the health unions and Unison head of health Gorton also said: ‘The number of volunteers in English hospitals is expected to double by 2023.
‘That’s why it’s vital staff, volunteers and their managers agree measures to protect themselves and the people who use the health service.
‘The charter recognises the important contribution of those who give their time for free to an under-resourced NHS, as well as providing clarity for the way ahead. It also ensures unions are involved in making this work in local hospitals.’
Chair and founder of Helpforce Sir Thomas Hughes-Hallett said: ‘We are proud to be working closely with health unions to deliver this important new charter and establish formal boundaries between the role of a volunteer and the role of staff in our health care.
‘As thousands more volunteers join our NHS, it is vital we protect them, as well as giving clarity to hardworking staff and patients.
‘There are many examples of high quality volunteer management happening throughout the NHS, including innovative roles and great volunteer training programmes.
‘This charter seeks to reinforce best practice and create a national standard for us all to aspire to.’
- Workers at the Environment Agency are to take industrial action after a below-inflation pay rise was forced on staff earlier this year, Unison announced on Thursday.
Staff overwhelmingly backed industrial action in their demand for a fairer offer than the 1.3% rise they were given back in January. More than 85% of votes cast supported taking action, which includes stopping unpaid overtime and work travel during personal time.
Senior managers at the Agency have refused to make a better offer or hold further talks, despite repeated Unison efforts.
Staff are angered their pay falls short of increases given to other public sector workers. Those doing the same job at the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency, for example, have agreed a 3% rise for low-paid workers and 2% for higher earners.
Since 2010, Environment Agency workers are 20% worse off as their wages have failed to keep pace with prices.
Unison national officer for the environment, Andrew Dobbie said: ‘Workers have spoken very clearly to reject this offer. The Agency must reopen negotiations to give them what they deserve.
‘These are staff whose vital work makes a difference to communities across England, protecting them from flooding and tackling pollution.
‘They deserve to be treated like their colleagues in local government and the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency, who have been given proper increases.’
Further details of the action are to be announced at a future date.