Holly Johnston, NHS nurse, Sheffield Socialist Party
As of 7 July, Covid sick pay has been taken away from NHS staff. At the end of June it was estimated by the Office for National Statistics that 1 in 30 people had Covid and hospital admissions are on the rise, but NHS staff who are absent due to Covid will now face the usual ‘sickness management policies’.
The government has used the pretence that we are getting ‘back to normal’. But hospitals have been told to brace themselves for a fifth wave with the BA.5 variant.
The Omicron wave, from December 2021 to April 2022, added 600,000 Long-Covid sufferers to an already estimated two million. One-in-six middle-aged Covid patients get Long Covid, and one-in-five are unable to work; just under half need reduced work schedules.
Unsurprisingly, healthcare workers report higher levels of Long Covid than the rest of the population – not helped by the fact that many of us were forced to work without adequate protection due to government failures.
Forcing NHS staff with Covid, and Long Covid, back onto basic sick pay will force staff back to work before they are well enough. NHS workers will be expected to look after patients while still experiencing intense fatigue, pain, brain fog and dizziness amongst other symptoms. Staff under financial pressure will be more likely to come into work Covid positive, increasing transmission further.
The decision further underlines the absolute contempt the government has towards health workers. As does the refusal to give a decent pay rise, and the three-month, and counting, delay in announcing the government’s recommendation for our pay this year.
The lowest-paid NHS staff have been given advances just so that the government does not break the law by paying below the minimum wage!
We need to see a joint trade union campaign, to demand decent sick pay and policies in the NHS, social care and all workplaces, including financial support for those unable to work due to Long Covid, and for an inflation-proof pay rise.
The government has again made it clear, it does not value NHS staff. We need to organise and mobilise ourselves in our unions for action, including strikes, to get the change our NHS and our patients need.
‘Strike together while Tories implode’
Holly spoke from the stage at the Durham Miners’ Gala on 9 July, as a GMB union rep and member of the ‘NHS workers say No’ campaign:
We have a Tory government in meltdown. That should give us confidence to fight, and confidence that we can win.
The Tories are imploding, they are not to be afraid of! There has never been a more important time to be in a union
With the Tories in collapse, workers and the unions have never had a better chance of getting rid of the Tories and win gains, for better pay and conditions across all sectors.
If more workers take action together across the public sector, in the NHS and across all sectors, then we can defeat them. I believe we should all be striking together and using our collective power to force change.
11 years ago we saw 29 public sector unions come together to strike over pensions, and we can do it again!
Our movement is built on the idea of solidarity, and that’s why many workers are disappointed that some Labour politicians have not been standing with working people trying to keep their heads above water. Healthcare workers will be glad to see the back of Boris Johnson and we need the opposition to call for an integrated, fully publicly owned health and care system with a restorative pay rise for NHS staff to ensure the future of the NHS.