The nine-point blueprint by 16 health unions for reopening the NHS should act as ‘a rocket booster’ for ministers to tackle the lack of PPE and the shambolic testing regime, Unite, Britain and Ireland’s largest union, said today (Friday 15 May).
Unite, which has 100,000 members in the health service, is one of the 16 unions that has contributed to the blueprint designed to make the NHS the safest possible environment for patients, staff and visitors as the lockdown is eased by the government, and out-patient clinics and operations resume.
Unite said that the three key issues that needed to be addressed urgently were the continuing lack of PPE; the ‘messy’ testing regime which has seen samples sent to the USA; and the withdrawal of the threat that NHS staff could be subject to a public sector pay freeze highlighted in leaked Treasury documents.
Unite national officer for health Colenzo Jarrett-Thorpe said: “This blueprint by the health unions should act as a rocket booster for ministers to really get to grips with key elements of the pandemic.
“A continuing shortage of PPE is a dark stain on the government’s response to the coronavirus emergency. We have ambulance, biomedical scientist, nursing and speech and language therapist (SALT) members telling us that there are still shortages and, in some cases, when it does arrive it is out-of-date, ill-fitting or not up to standard.
“We have feedback from our members that they are being leaned on by NHS bosses not to raise the PPE shortages – but Unite urges them to #staysafenot silent and to #telluswhatPPEyouneed.
“And we will back you to the hilt in raising these legitimate concerns that are of the highest public interest.
“The testing regime totters between the shambolic and the messy. There is little openness and transparency about how the government will hit its increased 200,000 daily test target.
“We have thousands of healthcare science members who could be used to better effect and engaged more substantively, so we can avoid the situation where samples are sent to America for analysis.
“It appears that the right hand does not know what the left hand is doing as the ‘test, track and trace’ initiative struggles to get off the ground in a meaningful way.
“Finally, our members are furious at the leaked Treasury assessment that a public sector pay freeze could be on the cards to pay for the cost of the pandemic. If the Thursday ‘clap for carers’ means anything, it should be that there can be no return to the age of austerity.
“More than 270 NHS and social care workers have died due to Covid-19 and hundreds of thousands more are risking their lives on a daily basis to care for others – yet this does not seem to stop Treasury mandarins drawing up heartless proposals to freeze public sector pay, which a recent Unite survey has shown the public does not want.”
The unions’ blueprint includes fast, comprehensive and accessible testing, and the ongoing, ample supply of protective kit, as well as calls for staff to be paid properly for every hour worked.