MOVES by a Midlands hospital trust to recruit unpaid ‘jobseekers’ to clean wards and ‘support patients through their hospital experience’ were condemned by a leading GMB health officer yesterday.
Having run a pilot scheme at one of its hospitals, Sandwell and West Birmingham hospitals trust now plans its work experience programme to all three of its hospitals.
The trust said participants in the initial pilot received two weeks of training at Sandwell College before carrying out their tasks in hospital wards, involving ‘general tidying, welcoming visitors, serving drinks to patients, running errands, reading to patients and assisting with feeding patients’.
‘The pilot is now complete and, after further consultation with trade unions and managers, we are aiming to run similar programmes across our three hospitals: City hospital in Birmingham, Sandwell Hospital and Rowley Regis hospital,’ the statement said.
GMB Health Officer Rehana Azam told News Line: ‘Do we really want volunteers working unpaid in hospitals, cleaning our wards?
‘Cleaning is a most demanding job in hospitals, cleaners have to stay on top of infections. If a job needs doing people should be properly remunerated, otherwise, how are they supposed to survive and pay their bills. This is a disgraceful attack on workers.
‘This sort of thing was going on in Tescos and other supermarkets, where people were being asked to work for free and there was an enormous furore. But for it to be happening in hospitals is a further development.
‘This is the 21st century and we don’t want to go back to the days of sweatshops. Even jobs like cleaning are very specialist jobs in hospitals.’
Unison admitted that it had initially agreed to the scheme, only later expressing second thoughts, saying: ‘Unison was consulted and agreed to plans for unemployed people to come to the hospital on work experience, but we did not agree to them playing a direct role in patient care and are very worried about the prospect of them doing so.’
Ravi Subramanian, Head of Unison West Midlands, said: ‘Thousands of staff are facing the prospect of losing their jobs and wards are closing. Now the hospital is making moves to deliver healthcare on the cheap, by using people on work experience to help with patient care.
‘Patients and staff will rightly be very worried about the standard of patient care as this scheme is rolled out.’