CALL A DAY OF ACTION – to defend the NHS says PCS civil servants

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‘A National Day of Action by all trade unions would be a good starting point’, a PCS spokesman told News Line yesterday.

He was responding to the appeal by the biggest public sector union, UNISON, for the TUC to convene a meeting of all health unions to ‘thrash out a strategy’ to oppose the government’s plan to contract out the commissioning of healthcare to the big insurance companies.

The PCS spokesman added: ‘The rally we had last week revealed that what’s going on in the NHS is a matter of great urgency for all trade unions.

‘All the unions should get together – privatisation is an issue that affects us all.

‘Thirteen trade unions took part in last week’s Public Services Not Private Profit rally and the biggest ever lobby of parliament.

‘The TUC Congress is coming up in September and I’m sure it will be the main issue there.’

A TGWU spokesman said: ‘All unions should get together to campaign against this with no options ruled out. We certainly wouldn’t rule out a Day of Action.

‘What the government is suggesting is madness. It would mean completely privatising the NHS.’

The British Medical Association said the BMA does not believe that private sector companies should be given a role in commissioning services for NHS patients.

Speaking at The BMA’s annual conference earlier this week, Chairman of the BMA Mr James Johnson said: ‘You don’t have to be a financial wizard to work out that if a private company runs the hospitals and also commissions the services it adds up to a licence to print money.’

The TUC refused to comment. When asked by News Line what strategy would be discussed, a TUC spokesman said: ‘That’s between UNISON and us.

‘We’ll meet the health unions and decide what to do. There’s nothing for the media here.’

UNISON accused the government of a breach of trust after an advert appeared in an EU official journal inviting private companies to bid for the purchasing of healthcare for millions of NHS patients.

UNISON head of health Karen Jennings described the plans as ‘a contract to privatise the whole of primary care across the UK’.

She said: ‘This is such a fundamental breach of trust that we are asking the TUC to get together a meeting of all health unions to thrash out a strategy.

‘There is a real danger that contracts will be awarded to the bidder promising the largest savings. It is a fundamental change in Labour party policy.

‘It is a disgrace that jobs of health visitors, community midwives, occupational therapists and district nurses are under threat or may be transferred to the private sector.’

The advert appeared prematurely and has since been withdrawn, but it invited companies to enter into ‘a competitive dialogue’ about the benefits of them buying healthcare from NHS hospitals, private clinics and charities on behalf of primary care trust patients.

The wording of the advert, in the Official Journal of the European Union, spoke of the NHS making a ‘step change from a service provider to a commissioning-led organisation’.

Earlier this year, health secretary Patricia Hewitt was forced to backtrack and apologise for plans to turn primary care trusts into purely commissioning bodies and transfer thousands of jobs to the private sector, where services would be provided.

UNISON said: ‘The EU advert suggests that that plan has been resurrected and primary trusts would be forced to hand over the commissioning of care to large “healthcare management” companies.’

All Trades Unions Alliance National Secretary Dave Wiltshire commented: ‘The only answer to Labour’s privatisation offensive is a general strike to bring the Blair government down and go forward to a workers government.’