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19 June 2019

Welsh government must block NHS privatisation or face workers' action

Beth Webster, nurse

Two Welsh health boards have announced plans to privatise their hospital pharmacies.

Betsi Cadwaladr and Cardiff and Vale health boards say they cannot afford to employ sufficient dispensers to maintain an adequate service. They predict that outsourcing outpatient services to a private, community pharmacy will improve inpatient pharmacy services by reducing workload.

This is yet another consequence of the Welsh Labour government repeatedly refusing to bail out health boards that are over-budget, and its demand on health boards to make cuts to break even. Health boards across Wales are 97.4 million in deficit.

The Welsh government stands by as poverty increases, contributing to the strain on the health service. It blames the Tories in Westminster, instead of joining with trade unions to demand more funds to meet rising need.


Public sector union Unison has condemned the proposed privatisation. It has used the example of Carillion's collapse to illustrate the dangers of NHS privatisation - that private companies will prioritise profit over patient need.

Unison stated it would be willing to work with health boards and the Welsh health secretary to jointly lobby Westminster.

Unfortunately that opposition has so far not been translated into a campaign to explain to union members how privatisation puts their job security, pay and terms and conditions at risk.

Private companies cut costs not primarily by making processes more efficient, but by increasing the exploitation of those who work for them.

Lloyds pharmacy workers took strike action in Ireland last year over the company's refusal to allow union recognition, and poor pay and conditions.

It is the job of unions to organise workers for a fightback, not to passively wait for workers to move into struggle without a lead.

Many health workers feel their unions have not put up a fight as conditions in the NHS have deteriorated over many years. This can create temporary doubts about whether it's possible to fight and win.

Domestic workers in Unison at Princess Alexandra Hospital in Harlow stopped their jobs being outsourced when they threatened a six-day strike, showing how effective workers' action against NHS privatisation can be with the support of their unions.

Unions should build campaigns with pharmacy workers and link them with other campaigns against attacks on the NHS, such as the hospital downgrades in West Wales. A public campaign opposing privatisation would have massive resonance with NHS staff and the public.

And it would build the basis for the workers' action needed to save the NHS.