Amongst the changes being considered by the cartel are pay cuts, increasing working hours and cutting holiday entitlement, cutting sick pay, introducing performance related pay progression and reducing unsocial hours payments.
The survey by UNISON reveals the damaging impact that the plans would have on health workers, their families and ultimately on patient care.
Many respondents said that a pay cut, on top of two years of frozen pay and increased pensions contributions, would have a devastating impact upon their lives. For some it would mean they couldn’t afford their mortgage, others would have to eat fewer than three meals a day, and some reported they would no longer be able to pay for their children’s after school activities.
Health workers said that cutting holiday entitlement and increasing working hours would make it incredibly difficult for them to manage the stress of their jobs, and could see them taking more time off work unwell. It would also cause staff morale to plummet even further and ultimately affect patient care.
UNISON, together with health workers from the South West, yesterday briefed MPs in the House of Commons on the dangers of the plans for regional pay and conditions.
UNISON head of health Christina McAnea said: “The top quality patient care that people in the South West need and deserve depends on top quality staff. We know that health staff across the country are under incredible pressure. This survey shows that the South West pay cartel’s plans could push health workers in the region to breaking point.
“Some of the responses to our survey were heartbreaking. Health workers are worried for themselves – their mental health, their finances. They are worried about the impact on their families, but also what these changes would mean for their patients.
“In our briefing with MPs we will be warning that these plans not only contain risks to the smooth delivery of services to patients, but are also deeply unpopular politically. We will be urging them to put pressure on the trusts in their areas to put a stop to these damaging plans.”
* Read Christina McAnea’s UnionNews feature on why patients will suffer from the plans by clicking here.
A selection of responses from the survey is printed below:
“The consequences would be huge. We go camping once a year for our family holiday in England – it’s the cheapest get away we can afford, we’d lose that. I’d be back to buying budget food, walking around the isles with a calculator again. I would be exhausted, so the time I spend with my family will not be quality time. AND my patients will suffer as a result. I don’t think there is much more I can take, morale is so low where I work, staff shortages and the attitude of the trust I work for towards their staff is so bad that to be honest I will start looking for alternative work. I have to say that is thoroughly heartbreaking as I love my job. I love being a nurse, but as the quality of the service is being compromised at every turn and the staff are being forced to work harder for less I’m not prepared to do patients a dis-service at a time in their lives when they really need good quality care from people who are enthused and able to do a good job.”
“Already we are pushed to the limit and beyond to maintain a service. We provide most of the care for patients and are poorly rewarded for this. I am getting poorer by the year, and also have to pay to park in an empty hospital car park at night. I live on a single income so expenses are harder and harder to manage. Loyalty, commitment, hard work mean nothing. Morale is bad enough without any more pressure.”
“I can barely survive now. Reduce my money and I will struggle to afford my mortgage. I already struggle with heating and eating, so for me it would be the last straw.”
“I have worked for the NHS for 28 years and often work over my hours, without claiming toil so that my patients are supported as best as I can. Not only do they want to erode my pension, make me work longer but are now asking me to sign up to a new contract with less pay, less sick pay, less leave and more hours. We will struggle to pay our mortgage and will have to lose our car. Less leave will impact on my mental health as my job, as with all of us, is very stressful, constantly changing, staff not being replaced. I believe that the sick rate will increase, resulting in poor care to patients. As my job is so stressful, having a decent leave entitlement helps my mental health and stress levels, keeps my care to my patients as best as it can be.”
“I already work long hours, and my morale has been stretched. I cannot afford to have my pay cut. I love my job caring for people but it is tough and if the proposals go through I don’t think I’ll be able to take any more.”
“I work long hours in a very stressful environment, often working eight, nine or even ten days before my next days off. These are rostered shifts, not extras. More often than not I work through my break and stay after work. This is not because I freely choose to rather that going for a break would mean compromising patient safety. The extra hours I work unpaid add up to two or three days each month. Lengthening the working week will already add to the extra hours I work for free each week/month. Reducing holiday entitlement will increase sickness absence as people will have less time to recover from very physically and mentally tiring work. Longer working hours and less holiday entitlement will increase sick time. Removing entitlements to working outside normal hours will mean that workers that volunteer to do these shifts e.g. e.g. nights and weekends will no longer do them as there is no incentive to work them. These people will leave and put further stress and strain on an already over-stretched workforce. A reduction in basic pay would make me and my colleagues less well off taking in to account price rises and the fact that our pay has been frozen for the last two years. Less pay means the fear of not being able to pay bills especially in view of rocketing fuel bills and a fear of not being able to pay the mortgage.”
“There are no luxuries that I can cut down on. I would have to cut down on food or some other bills. The holiday I have I need for childcare. I work 37.5 hours a week now and I am shattered. Hardly ever have a chance of a lunch break or any sort of break. Your manager says take a break but there is no-one to help with your workload. I would have to get another job.”
“Due to limited specialist nurse jobs in the South West I have to travel 120 miles a day to work. This change means I might not be able to continue in the job.”
“If I had a cut in wages it would impact on my diet – I would have to eat less than three meals a day.”
“It would affect the children’s after school activities. Swimming lessons, gymnastics etc would have to go. Our child care bills would go up if the working week was extended. We wouldn’t spend so much time as a family if I had to work evenings and weekends. There is also a risk we wouldn’t be able to keep up with our bills.”
“Reduction in leave would add to the stress levels of an existing high level of stress due to being under staffed & also increase care costs for the days lost as above. A longer working week would again mean increased care costs & quite possibly not being able to get care cover for the extra hours. The consequences of the proposals would result in higher stress levels possibly higher sickness levels, looking for alternative employment or seeking early retirement.”
“I am not sure how I would be able to cut back if my pay was reduced as I live very frugally now. Potentially I would have to consider reducing my food shopping bill – cheaper, less health diet. Try to reduce my electricity/gas bills by not having heating on. I already cycle everywhere so do not have the option of reducing petrol costs, I don’t buy new clothes unless essential and my social life is already limited by money. Even though I am part time I find my job quite stressful and value my annual leave as a means of managing my stress. If my annual leave was reduced I am sure it will impact on how I manage/deal with stress, the impact of this could be a potential increase in ill health and increased sick leave. If my sick pay is reduced the impact would be obvious, my recovery will be limited by the levels of stress I will experience through worrying about how I will pay bills. I have tried to return to work to soon before when off sick, with negative results – having to go back home.”