I’ve come across an interesting email among the FOI disclosures from the member Trusts of the South-West NHS pay cartel. I believe that this is the first time that it has been made public, but I can’t say so for certain.
Since its official formation in June and the exposure of its existence and some of its plans in the media on 16 July, the Trust has been consistent (it works very hard to get all its members to present a consistent public front) in its press releases and statements to staff and unions of about two matters. First, that it respects and values the contributions made by staff and their unions and wants to work with them to resolve the ‘financial challenge’. For example, the cartel’s public FAQ document states:
“All participating Trusts are totally committed to working with staff and local Unions throughout the period in which the full business case is produced, and beyond. Staff engagement is essential in all matters as this improves the quality of any decisions made and promotes understanding and knowledge.”
Second that it fully supports the Agenda for Change (AfC) national negotiations on pay and conditions. Again from the FAQ:
“The Consortium is fully supportive of the national discussions between employer representatives and Unions which have been taking place for more than 18 months and are looking at modernising the current Agenda for Change system of terms and conditions.”
The fact that the cartel is working to establish a unique set of regional conditions has always shown that the second statement was a nonsense, but in a similar way to how ‘Plebgate’ speaks volumes of the underlying attitudes of the Tory party, the email I’ve received sheds a lot of light not only on that but on the real attitude of the cartel toward its hard-working staff and the unions trying to protect them.
Below is the text of the email in full. It was sent by the Financial Director of one of the Trusts, an individual whose name features frequently in all the cartel’s correspondence because of his close involvement with its steering group, to a journalist who had written asking about modelling the table of cost-reductions targets for the south-west NHS region, though not specifically about the cartel.
“There has been some work done regarding the effect of not continuing the current freeze but it will be a matter of politics at the end of the day. I think the one to watch is the South West Pay Consortium which has drawn a lot of flak from the unions. It will have an impact on national negotiations and as a result I suspect the likelihood of pay inflation has decreased as reality has started to dawn. The unions are in a difficult place. Across the economy pay has been reduced or staff have been asked to work longer for the same pay. This applies to Local Authorities, some Central Departments, and of course the private sector. In the NHS we have seen increases albeit through incremental drift. There have been few redundancies apart from on the commissioner side (which of course doesn’t count), and no change in working hours. Anyone looking on from European health services must have rather large green eyes. Now the unions may behave stupidly and ask for more, they may just look stupid as they challenge the right of Trusts in the South West to discuss such issues, but deep down they aren’t as stupid as they look. They know they are hanging on by their fingernails to the generous offers they received during the past 10+ years when the Government were happy to borrow to fund their growth aspirations, and they know that this cannot be justified. The real question is how far can or should NHS pay be reversed whilst continuing to maintain a committed work force. In my view the real answer is probably in asking them to work longer hours, say 40 per week for the same pay. This not only reduces the hourly rate and allows posts to be reduced over time, but it also enables more skilled staff to be available for continued growth in demographically fuelled demand, and at the same time preserves income levels for the vast majority of staff.
I think it is interesting that there hasn’t been huge public outcry regarding NHS pay and the possibility of reducing it somewhat. I think there is not much public support for NHS staff pay issues or their union representatives at the moment (GPs and consultants striking for their pensions is an example that went badly wrong). The question which is the really difficult one is the belief that if pay is cut or frozen but with other related cuts, will the Treasury say thank you very much and steal the savings leaving the NHS in just as bad a situation as it is currently facing, and probably worse. This is the biggest issue. No one trusts the Treasury and we have already seen it steal carry forward money built up to help the NHS over the years ahead. Understandable given the disastrous state of the economy. But whilst nurses may understand pay changes which help to fund
the continuity of care for their patients locally they are likely to be much more reticent about funding the national debt!”
The cartel insists that it respects and values staff and their unions. I don’t know about you, but if someone said about me that I’m not as stupid as I look, I wouldn’t feel that their underlying attitude to me was respect and esteem.
The tenor of this email, the contempt and arrogance, staggers me. As someone who writes a lot about the NHS and health-workers, I hear many comments from nurses, doctors and other frontline staff about the ‘bean-counters’ who run the NHS and who have no knowledge of, or care about, what it’s like to be on the front line, nor any care about patients except as a ‘measurable’, a way of reporting what a good job they (the bean-counters) are doing. I’m sure there are exceptions, but this Finance Director doesn’t appear to be one of them.
A few other ‘lowlights’:
“[unions] know they are hanging on by their fingernails to the generous offers they received during the past 10+ years when the Government were happy to borrow to fund their growth aspirations, and they know that this cannot be justified”
Anyone who knows what a typical ward staff-nurse is paid, let alone a health-care assistant or porter, will be able to vouch that it may be above minimum wage, but it’s anything but ‘generous’, especially in the context of the intensity of work that’s expected from them and the type of work it involves. I’d want to be paid several times more than a nurse receives before I’d even think about cleaning up the vomit and worse that is an everyday reality on most hospital wards!
The pay increases that took place under the last Labour government were not ‘generous’. They were about recognising properly the value of our health-workers and the work that they do – and about ensuring that a high calibre of people could be recruited and retained to ensure the standards of health-care that British people rightly expect.
The contemptuous, dismissive tone of this highly-paid number-cruncher eloquently illustrates just how little he values either his staff or the people that they care for.
“In my view the real answer is probably in asking them to work longer hours, say 40 per week for the same pay. This not only reduces the hourly rate and allows posts to be reduced over time”
The cartel has continually insisted that its measures are about protecting employment, arguing that it needs ‘flexibility’ (i.e. the freedom to reduce pay) in order to safeguard 6,000 jobs. Yet here we see, straight from the horse’s mouth as it were, that the long-term aim is not only to reduce pay but to reduce staff numbers as well.
“it is interesting that there hasn’t been huge public outcry regarding NHS pay and the possibility of reducing it somewhat. I think there is not much public support for NHS staff pay issues or their union representatives at the moment“
The cartel thinks public support for NHS workers and so it can get away with pretty much whatever it wants at the moment. If this is true, it’s because the government and its media are working hard to twist public opinion, or even better, to keep it out of the public eye altogether. This comment just shows how crucial it is to use every means available to raise public awareness – including marches, industrial action and strikes.
Virtually every person in this country is either close to someone who works in the NHS, or has a story of a close family member whose life was saved or whose final days were brightened by those who do. If there’s ‘not much public support’, it’s because the government has been winning the information war, and every person who cares about public services in general or the NHS in particular needs to do everything possible to turn the tide before it’s too late and this malignant government has destroyed the great work of decades beyond repair.
For this reason, although I don’t work in the public sector and am not even in a union, I’m going to be at the TUC’s ‘A Future That Works’ march in London on 20 October – and I urge you to go too.
“will the Treasury say thank you very much and steal the savings leaving the NHS in just as bad a situation as it is currently facing, and probably worse. This is the biggest issue. No one trusts the Treasury and we have already seen it steal carry forward money built up to help the NHS over the years ahead.”
Wow. The cartel is acting as ‘hatchet man’ to cut pay and conditions for NHS workers, but even the people running it don’t trust George Osborne or his department. Straight from the horse’s mouth we hear that the government has been ‘stealing’ resources from the NHS that had been built up to help it continue to provide good healthcare to the British people.
The government claims its ‘reforms’ are about making the NHS more able to cope with future demands on its resources. But (as if it wasn’t already plain) we see that where savings have been made and surpluses accumulated against future need, the Treasury simply takes the money – and then gives a tax cut to the richest.
It’s clear from this email and other information that’s now in the public domain that whatever the South West NHS cartel may say about its aims and intentions, the reality is that it doesn’t genuinely value its staff or their representatives, and that its plans are not about protecting employment but rather about exploiting a perceived current weakness to drive through measures that are merely a first phase in a long-term plan to reduce employment and services as well as pay.
Not only that, but n the context of what’s going on in our society at the moment, of which this email reflects just a small part, it is surely beyond question that those who march, protest and strike – in spite of the government’s claims that such acts are selfish and uncaring of the broader picture – are in fact performing an ethical duty and a service to every ordinary man, woman and child in the UK.