Cameron’s NHS ‘improvement plan’ means more work for fewer staff, says UNISON

Union fears plans for Olympics-style 'volunteers' in hospitals and care homes could be used to substitute the jobs of more than 5,700 nurses who have left the NHS since Coalition government took office in 2010.
by - 4th January 2013, 10.24 BST

There has been a guarded welcome for plans announced by the Prime Minister to improve training among nurses, health staff and those who care for older people and dementia sufferers in care homes and hospitals.

(Pictured: UNISON medical secretaries strike, Wakefield, November 2012)

The NHS says 1 in 4 beds in hospitals in England are occupied by patients with dementia.

Under new proposals spelled out by David Cameron, a £50m incentive scheme will be available to improve dementia care in 2013/14.

However, UNISON said dementia services had already seen cuts.

Officials warn the proposals would ‘force providers to rob Peter to pay Paul’, by cutting existing services or staff.

The union said comparisons made by the Prime Minister between proposed ‘care makers’ – volunteer ‘ambassadors’ in hospitals and care homes – and Olympics ‘games makers’ were misleading.

UNISON says there is concern that these volunteers could be used to replace the work of staff made redundant.

Officials say David Cameron’s announcement should also be seen against the backdrop of Government demands for £20bn in so called efficiency savings from the NHS by 2015.

Gail Adams, UNISON head of nursing said: “UNISON welcomes any move to improve the care of NHS patients, but these plans are asking already stretched healthcare staff to provide more care with fewer resources.

“The principle behind this initiative is good, but the NHS is under severe financial pressure. We have seen cuts across the board, and without significant additional funding to implement these plans locally, organisations are likely to struggle.

“Funding training is an important first step, but providing the best possible quality of care doesn’t begin and end there.

“Nurses make the best advocates for patients, but they can only do this if they are employed in sufficient numbers, in the right place and at the right time to provide safe, compassionate and dignified care.

“Under this government we’ve already lost 5744 nurses, and those that remain are exhausted and under constant pressure.

“Under the Health and Social Care Act, It is the role of the Commissioning Board, and local commissioning consortia to commission and provide healthcare services, not government, so this announcement should be taken with caution.”

A nursing survey from UNISON recently revealed that 85% believed that insufficient staffing levels were the biggest barriers to providing the highest quality of patient care.

UNISON maintained that secondments, which have become scarcely available under the coalition, were the best way to enable staff development and training. The union has called for minimum induction standards for healthcare assistants, and regulation, for many years.

Officials say the Department of Health has piloted the ‘Friends and Family test’ in the Midlands and east of England. According to the DfH, it has created a £50m incentive pot for hospitals to support implementing the test for patients from April 2013.

UNISON warns that the proposed test ‘needs further consideration’. Officials say it is not clear how it will work or  relationship it will have with the Care Quality Commission watchdog or patients groups such as Healthwatch.