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The NHS is 63 today – health workers speak out

As the NHS celebrates its birthday, health service staff tell of their experiences and the challenges ahead.

Celebrating the NHS's birthday

Gill, ward housekeeper from East Midlands

Speaking as an NHS Housekeeper, I dread what this government is doing to our NHS. We are back in-house after seven years of failed contracting out. We don’t want to go back to that awful feeling that we are no longer part of the NHS and having other staff look down on us for being “just contractors, what do you expect?”. They did not understand that we had lost so many hours from each ward, and that was the real reason that standards plummeted.

But, at least we could rely on a pension. If we are contracted out again, the company will be able to undercut any in-house bid by not providing us with a pension. The government has sweetened the deal for private companies to come in and make a mint out of the lowest paid members of staff.

I worry about what is happening now with the cost savings. Morale is so low across the Trust I work in. A lot of staff wish they could retire now – they are so worried about the future. I believe that if my department and others in our hospital get privatised, and people lose their pension, or the pensions schemes are made much worse, staff will leave in their droves. On top of the pay freeze, threat of job cuts, the spending cuts, and the cost of living going up so much, who will want to carry on working in the NHS? Having a pension to rely on at the end of it helps to keep you going in the bad times.

If I retire next year, after working in my hospital for 21 years, my NHS pension will be less than £1,800 per year, thanks to contracting out. Hardly gold plated, but so important to me. I don’t want the taxpayer keeping me.

Mary, ward housekeeper from the West Midlands

Today, on the NHS’s birthday, I would like to pay tribute to everyone working hard to keep our health service running – and all who have done so over the last 63 years.

Health workers are part of a team – no one person or profession is more important than another. I see every day what a difference every person makes – it is naive, let alone totally wrong, to think you can draw a neat line between the front and back office.

I am a ward housekeeper. Without me or the hospital cleaners there would be no patients – wards have to be cleaned. Take the hospital porter away and patients would have to make their own way to x-ray. Without the catering staff there would be no meals for health workers or patients. And without the housekeeper – my job – no meals would be ordered. How would patients recover without food?

And what about the healthcare assistants? They get patients up and dressed, and help them to eat if they need it. And then there are the x-ray and phlebotomists staff, ward receptionists, occupational therapists, the estates staff who keep our buildings in pristine condition, and many more.

All of these jobs might not make the front page – but they are a vital cog in the wheel that delivers patient care and they deserve our thanks today, and every day.

Eleanor Smith, Unison President and theatre nurse from the West Midlands

The NHS’s 63rd birthday comes at a pivotal moment for our health service. As a theatre nurse, I know that the health service, and health workers, are being squeezed from all sides. £20 billion of efficiency savings are piling on the pressure, and the huge cost of this government’s top down re-organisation will take its toll. The cost of sacking Primary Care Trust workers will run into hundreds of millions of pounds – money that should be going towards better patient care.

It’s not even a matter of time before patients feel the effects of all this – many already are suffering from Tory control of the health service. Waiting lists are getting longer, so-called non-essential operations are being cancelled – leaving people suffering in pain. Health workers are losing their jobs. As a nurse I know that healthcare is delivered by a team, so take any one away and patient care suffers, making it only a matter of time before another Mid-Staffs healthcare scandal hits the headlines if all this continues.

Equality, and equal access to healthcare have always been huge issues for me. The prospect of a postcode lottery emerging, and people missing out on what should be a basic right in this country – healthcare – really worries me. There is already enough inequality dividing people, without healthcare joining the list.

When the NHS’ next birthday comes around, I hope that trusts will still be respecting national agreements on pay, terms and conditions. Some trusts have started dipping their toes in the water of making their own arrangements, and this will just spark a race to the bottom. We cannot have nurses, paramedics, healthcare assistants or admin workers getting different rates for the same job – it is a recipe for a recruitment and retention crisis, and seeing low morale getting even worse.

Get involved in the NHS celebrations and protests.


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