RCN members striking in December Merthyr, photo Socialist Party Wales
RCN members striking in December Merthyr, photo Socialist Party Wales

Fully funded pay rises now!

Holly Johnston, nurse and Socialist Party member

The NHS is in the middle of a staffing crisis, a bed shortage and a waiting list of 7.7 million patients! The Tory government has blamed health strikes for the crisis yet still refuses to meaningfully address the recruitment and retention of staff in the NHS. Applications to nursing courses have declined by 18.5% in the last year alone, staff continue to leave the NHS at an alarming rate and seek alternative employment outside of the NHS for better rates of pay, less stress, less workload intensity and a better work-life balance.

At this year’s Labour Party conference, Wes Streeting, shadow health secretary, announced his party’s plans for the NHS. He confirmed plans to invest £1.1 billion into the health service, provide two million more appointments each year through evening and weekend clinics, and double the number of NHS scanners to diagnose and treat patients earlier. Labour intends to pay already overworked staff overtime to work additional evening and weekend shifts to carry out extra procedures to reduce the waiting list. Funding for these changes would be paid for by abolishing the ‘non-dom’ tax status. According to Labour, all this will enable the NHS to provide an extra 2 million operations, scans and appointments in the first year of a Labour government.

These announcements have not been well received by healthcare workers. With an estimated 125,000 vacancies in the NHS and lack of investment, we cannot keep pace with demand for services and work through the waiting lists without a fully staffed workforce.

The Royal College of Nursing, whose members took strike action earlier this year for pay rises, responded: “Any Labour government would likely take office at a time of record unfilled nurse jobs. The long-term answer is, of course, to have more staff overall. When many nurses already work additional days to make ends meet financially, extra capacity is urgently required.”

The Society of Radiographers, whose members are also striking for fair pay, has said: “Any investment in new equipment must go hand in hand with measures to recruit and retain more radiographers. Our members talk about brand new MRI scanners standing unused for all but a few hours a week, because they did not come with a matching budget for radiography professionals to deliver patient care.”

Staffing crisis

As part of the NHS Long Term Workforce Plan, the Tory government will expand medical school places, but with just 205 new ones next year! Labour, on the other hand, has said it plans to double the number of medical school places. Expanding the number of training places does not, however, make the problem go away on its own. We need to see the abolition of fees and student debt. To meaningfully address recruitment and retention of NHS staff we need pay restoration. One-off non-consolidated lump sums and measly, below-inflation pay offers won’t fix the staffing crisis.

NHS staff are already working overtime, evenings and weekends to make ends meet and to help meet the demands of our services. Staff are already burnt out and on the verge of, or already, leaving. The fight for the NHS and our pay isn’t over – the problems haven’t gone away.

Health unions are getting ready to enter negotiations for next year’s pay rounds. Unions should co-ordinate with each other to fight for pay we deserve, safe staffing and for a fully funded, publicly owned NHS.

In order to rebuild our NHS and its workforce, we need a service that is fully funded by the government, publicly owned and free from profiteers and privatisation. When Streeting spoke at Labour conference on the need to use ‘new technology’ in the NHS, if this is code for further privatisation then we will need to fight against it.

If Labour won’t deliver on the pay and funding the NHS needs, then we need a new mass workers’ party that would. That’s why the Socialist Party is fighting for a trade union-backed workers’ list of candidates at the general election, to help with the development of such a party.