Monday, 16 January 2017

Report of Reading Trades Union Council’s event:

Help Save the NHS

Chair: Nada Al-Sanjari (Vice President, RTUC)
Chair and Speakers for RTUC's 'Help Save the NHS' event

Date/Time: 16 January 2017, 19.00-21.00

Venue: Reading International Solidarity Centre, London Street, Reading

Speakers: Merry Cross (DPAC); Kevin Jackson (Unison); Kevin Brandstatter (GMB)
RTUC's 'Help Save the NHS' event
With about thirty persons in attendance, Nada Al-Sanjari, Reading Trades Union Council Vice President and chair for the evening, introduced the speakers: Merry Cross representing Disabled People Against Cuts; Kevin Jackson representing the health workers’ union Unison; and Kevin Brandstatter representing the health workers’ union GMB.
Merry Cross of Disabled People Against Cuts
Merry spoke first, declaring that the Conservatives are ripping up society, social care and the NHS. She talked about physical and mental impairment being a diverse range of characteristics which people live with. Disability – or disablement – is the oppression people suffer due to their impairment. All people in society need to take on some key facts: while around ten percent of the population are disabled, impairment can happen overnight, instantly and is unplanned – leading to immediate disablement. Discrimination against the impaired, therefore, should be everyone’s concern. ‘Today it’s me; tomorrow it could be you!’ Merry pointed out. DPAC has been disappointed with solidarity from other groups hitherto, including trade unions.

Merry next turned her attention to current specific issues. The threatened closure of the hydrotherapy pool at the Royal Berkshire Hospital (RBH) would mean that, without hydrotherapy, so many more people would require hospital care. [RTUC had invited Merry to bring along a petition to save the hydrotherapy pool and a number of new supporters signed up during the course of the evening.]

More generally, Merry asserted that austerity affects women and the disabled most. Department for Work and Pensions assessments (Work Capability Assessments, Disability Living Allowance assessments, Industrial Injuries Disablement Benefit medical assessments, Veterans UK assessments) are being used to throw people off benefits; some have died, some suffer malnutrition. Assessments can result in the removal of a disabled person’s car – before their appeals is heard. This increased lack of mobility leads to isolation, depression – and visits to the GP, putting more pressure on the NHS.

Social care has been reduced so that no night assistance is received by many people in need. People who require assistance going to the toilet are made to wear incontinence pads – though they are not incontinent! And the pads – which were once supplied on the NHS – now have to be paid for. Dignity is under attack – and the shift in caring responsibilities from professionals to family members is straining relationships.

The introduction of the Bedroom Tax has disproportionately affected disabled persons. Many have been forced to give up houses which have been specially adapted for their needs – to move into smaller properties not adapted. Again, this results in more visits to the NHS.

As Merry was not able to remain for the whole evening, the chair invited discussion and questions immediately following her talk. One audience member noted the disappearance of public telephones as particularly affecting the poor, including the disabled poor. Two related questions were: ‘What can trade unions do to assist DPAC?’ and ‘Can trade unions affiliate to DPAC?’ Merry answered that DPAC’s main need is funds, as some hearing impaired members require interpreters. In addition, trade unions can support campaigns, help hold banners and undertake leafleting. Merry saw no reason why trade unions couldn’t affiliate, though pointed out that DPAC is not a registered charity. A final question asked ‘What support do disabled people receive from the Equality Commission?’ Merry replied that the Commission has been largely emasculated and there is little they can do with their current powers.
Kevin Jackson, Unison's Berkshire and
Healthcare Branch Secretary

Kevin Jackson, the secretary of Unison’s Berkshire and Healthcare Branch, spoke next. He began by observing that, while he’s been active in the local NHS for ten years, he’s watched its sharp decline since 2010. Before the 2015 general election, the head of the NHS declared that the service required £30 billion. Following the election, £8 billion has been provided and £20 billion worth of savings have been demanded.

In January 2016, the government established 44 areas and requested that each draft up a Sustainability and Transformation Plan. The Reading area is covered by the Buckinghamshire, Oxfordshire and (West) Berkshire Sustainability and Transformation Plan (BOB STP) [the Full Draft of which was published in December 2016 and can be found here:; a summary available here:].

The BOB STP proposes a ‘review’ of community hospitals (i.e., closures); a ‘review’ of the staff mix (i.e., replacing nurses with health assistance); and a ‘review’ of doctors’ surgeries (i.e., closures). £500 million is proposed to be saved by 2020. This is the destruction of the NHS. How about increasing corporation tax? How about raising income tax? Some CEOs earn more in three days than the average annual pay of their employees. The government has a slim majority – we need to expose the lies on health funding and challenge all health cuts. The BOB STP is not achievable if the NHS is to survive.
Kevin Brandstatter, GMB National
Organising Officer

The final speaker was Kevin Brandstatter, National Organising Officer for the GMB union with many members working in health care. Kevin began by asserting that ‘last week was the worst for the NHS!’ The Red Cross declared a ‘humanitarian crisis’; cancer treatments were cancelled for the first time; people are dying in beds in corridors. Meanwhile, the health Secretary Jeremy Hunt is gloating from the sale of his internet business, Hotcourses, for £17 million (his 49% share) which makes money from state education. The deal will make him the richest person in the cabinet.

The NHS budget has gone up one percent per year, but its costs have inflated by four percent per year. Although the NHS was promised £8 billion following the 2015 general election, £4 billion was already earmarked for deficit reduction – so will not go towards health care. The two percent increase in council tax to support social care is not enough to cover current needs. The BOB STP proposals do not address the problem of training and retaining medical staff – due to their poor wages. Instead it proposes raising productivity – i.e., staff working harder for the same money. It is also considering privatising ‘back office’ functions – thus taking public money out of the NHS. The STPs are encouraging private health insurance firms and boosting private health care providers.

Under the Tories, the NHS is set to become a rump service for the unemployed, the elderly and those in precarious employment. Trades councils need to organise opposition. On 4 March there will be a National Demonstration to Defend Our NHS [see:]. Labour parties and trade unions must work together. This is a class issue. Working people need to fight back.

Following the two trade union speakers, questions and discussion were invited from the floor. One audience member mentioned that John McDonnell, when addressing Unite members earlier that day, stated that current government plans are to cut taxes by £70 billion over five years. We need to stop that and fund the NHS. The speaker also mentioned that private companies are taking over Trusts (Capita in Norfolk, eg.) and making money out of the NHS. Kevin Jackson replied that private care homes are closing due to cost – and there is no public option available to fill the gap.

Another audience member suggested councils set deficit budgets and refuse to implement cuts. He asked ‘where is the national strike over attacks on the NHS, the Trade Union Bill, etc.? Kevin Brandstatter said that, despite the British Medical Association (BMA) not being a member of the Trades Union Congress, trade unions are supporting junior doctors’ actions and other BMA initiatives. Labour councillor, Graeme Hoskin (Reading’s Lead Councillor for Health) replied that councils can’t set deficit budgets; the government would take direct control of the council and local democracy would be lost. On the Trade Union Act, Graeme stated that Reading Borough Council (RBC) will not abide by its provisions despite it being law. He also pointed out that RBC has an ethical wage agreement with Unison though funding is being squeezed and it is becoming difficult to sustain it. He asserted that the answer to the NHS crisis is ultimately political – a change in government is required to save it.
Cllr Gaeme Hoskin, Reading Borough
Council's Lead Councillor for Health

John Ennis, Labour councillor for Southcote Ward, publicised Reading & District Labour Party’s National Campaign Day around the NHS & Social Care on 21 January (see [For Wokingham Constituency Labour Party’s similar initiative, see] He agreed that Labour parties and trade unions need to work together and the local Labour Party needs to overcome elements within the party which refuse to circulate trade union information.

Other comments from the audience were: 1) the press and media in general are attempting to normalise the crisis in the NHS; 2) the USA spends c. 17% of national wealth on health services while we spend less than Germany, France and other G20 countries; 3) We need materials for activists to use to campaign for the NHS; 4) we need to publicise coaches and subsidised travel to the 4 March National Demonstration to Defend Our NHS.

After two hours of informative presentations and general discussion and questions, Nada thanked the speakers and audience on behalf of Reading Trades Union Council and encouraged attendees to sign Merry’s petition to save the RBH hydrotherapy pool.
The Morning Star, 14-15 January 2017