The Socialist 16 July 2008
Global finance crisis deepens
Ambulances - calls doubled, no extra staff
I WROTE recently to Ben Bradshaw, minister in charge of ambulance services, calling for an increase in front-line emergency vehicles. I said that we have not had an increase in the number of front line staff or vehicles for over ten years (ironically under a Tory government). This is despite the fact that, largely as a result of government social policy, 999 calls have increased by 100% over the last ten years.
Steve Harbord, Unison rep, Hayes ambulance station (personal capacity)
I said that an ever-increasing elderly population, poor housing, low wages (and its consequences such as poor diet) and an ever-growing number of people with alcohol and drug abuse, all mean that the ambulance service is constantly at breaking point. I called on New Labour to ditch its Thatcherite policies and start representing working people.
As union reps, when we meet management in the London Ambulance service and put forward an argument for extra vehicles and manning, we are constantly told we have to work within a budget, and that the NHS is "not a cash cow". Managers throw their arms open exclaiming "where will the money come from?"
You explain that it's down to government policy. If they can find billions of pounds to prop up a bank and many billions more on an outdated nuclear weapons system then, unlike Trident, it's not exactly rocket science.
You then explain that the money can come from ditching neo-liberal financial strategies, closing tax loopholes, and taxing the rich. This usually meets with blank expressions. Our bosses have been conditioned to so much management-speak gobbledegook they think you are speaking a foreign language.
The fact is that management will not dare ask for the extra funding as this will be seen as an admission that they cannot manage the budget.
When after a few weeks, a response came back from the Commons, it was clear that Ben Bradshaw couldn't get his head around what I was saying. He left it to a junior to reply on his behalf who referred me back to the London Ambulance service. They thoughtfully supplied me with the name of our chief executive and address and telephone number of the service I have worked for for 24 years. Blank expressions all round it seems!
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