A few weeks ago I wrote about the government-sanctioned cartel that has been formed to attack the pay and conditions of NHS workers in South-West England, and the FOI request I submitted to try to uncover evidence of collusion and co-ordination between the Department of Health and the ‘Consortium’ or its member Trusts.
I’ve received a response from the Dept of Health. Kind of. According to the DH FOI team, I’m supposed to believe that the entire communication since 16/7/2011 consists of 3 (heavily-redacted) emails on a single day, plus one phone-call on the same day, mentioned in one of the emails – if it’s true that this represents all its communication with a group representing almost 10% of the country’s NHS Trusts, then the DH is certainly not doing its job properly. However, even in this minimal response, there’s still evidence of positive collusion not only between the DH and the SW pay cartel, but also including NHS Employers, the entity heading national NHS pay negotiations.
Here’s the text of the 3 emails the DH sent me:
|13/7/2012(13.32 hrs)||Nic Greenfield||(s. 40)cc. Nic Greenfield,
|Fw: South west consortiumcommunications||Dear (s.40)I just spoke with Nic. When Nic met David and Chris on Tuesday it was made clear that the NHS Chief Executive, David Nicholson, and ministers had been briefed on the south west consortium position and were content and grateful for the briefing.
Nic asked for the consortium to work closely with NHS Employers who are lead national negotiators on behalf of management. Chris mentioned you were already in touch with (s.40) and, as you have just confirmed on the phone (s.40) the (s.40).
It would be great if any comms the consortium wish to issue locally could be cleared with NHSE so that they can advise on management’s position.
Any industrial relation concerns locally, or media interest, should be brought to the attention of the Department of Health, specifically (s.40) cc. Tim Sands as soon as possible. Also please include SHA Workforce Directors (s.40) and (s.40) in any such discussion.
(s.40) on behalf of
Director of NHS Pay, Pensions and Employee Relations
Department of Health
|13/7/12(12.53 hrs)||(s.40)||Nic Greenfieldcc. Tim Sands||Fw: South west consortium communications||Hi Nic, (s.40) from Poole Hospital, leading on the SW pay consortium communications just called. He would like to be put in touch with a member of the Pay, Pensions and Employee Relations division with an aim to directly engage with DH on media/external briefing issues. I mentioned to (s.40) that (s.40) would be the best placed to deal with this. However, as this is a pay issue maybe it would be better covered by (s.40). Grateful if you could advise.
|13/7/2012(12.40 hrs)||(s.40)||(s.40)||South west consortium communications||Dear (s.40) good to talk to you just now. As mentioned, I’m leading on comms for the south west pay, terms and conditions consortium, and following (s.40) and (s.40) meeting with Nic Greenfield earlier this week, they expressed a sense that we should more directly engage with the dept on media/external briefing issues, or at least explore if this may be helpful to you. Which brings me to a just-received media issue…I would be grateful if you would put me in touch with (s.40) in order to discuss the above as soon as possible.
Poole Hospital Foundation Trust
The repeated ‘s.40’ references flag information that has been removed under Section 40 of the FOI Act on the basis that they reveal personal information that would not otherwise be in the public domain. I can understand that this might apply to email addresses etc, but surely not to the mere names of officials, so I’ve challenged this. But let’s get to the real significance of the minimal information received.
1) Most importantly, the emails prove that on Tues 10 July – 6 days before Andrew Lansley commented on the cartel’s plans to cut pay by stating publicly ‘I have made it clear that we are not proposing any reductions in pay as a consequence. I do not believe they are necessary or desirable in achieving the efficiency challenge‘ – Health Ministers (as well as the Chief Exec of the NHS) had been briefed on the Cartel’s plans and had declared themselves content!
2) Lansley’s department was agreeing to co-ordinate media communication with a group with the expressed aim of driving down wages and which has even threatened to sack staff who refuse to accept cuts in pay and holidays and extended working hours. Now, based on the Tories’ opinion that Jeremy Hunt’s desire to co-ordinate the handling of the media on the BSkyb takeover with News International was not a problem, we know that they find this kind of thing quite acceptable. But for anyone with a brain and some integrity, it’s absolutely clear that this level of collusion completely undermines Lansley’s claims that the ‘Consortium’ is acting on its own with no input from the DH.
3) Not only is the DH colluding with the cartel to manage media communications regarding the cartel’s activities, but the DH asks the cartel to co-ordinate its plans, activities & communications with ‘NHS Employers’, the group responsible for national NHS pay negotiations – and which is part of the NHS Confederation, a body which includes and is strongly influenced by private healthcare providers. NHSE has taken a public stance of disagreeing with localised pay structures, but its reasons for this have been more to do with the difficulties of retaining staff if they might move to neighbouring areas. Co-ordination between the cartel and NHSE strongly suggests an attempt to undermine national pay discussions while appearing to be supportive of them, and that ways are being sought to drive down regional pay while minimising the risk of staff moving to other areas where pay is better.
Personally, I believe that in spite of the DH’s attempt to minimise and edit the information it has provided in response to my FOI request, what it has provided is still explosive – because it clearly demonstrates the DH’s collaboration with the South-West pay cartel, and suggests a wider agenda that seeks to use the cartel ‘pilot project’ to mount a national (possibly disguised) attack on the pay, terms and conditions of our doctors, nurses and other health-workers.
(To send a message to the government that you despise its NHS ‘reforms’, which are clearly designed to dismantle and sell off what is one of our nation’s greatest achievements and treasures, please sign this petition: http://www.gopetition.com/petitions/petition-to-repeal-the-health-social-care-act-nhs-a.html)