It’s never too late, 15 May 2013

Martin WrightBy Martin Wright, regional lead officer for health, North East

NHS workers are a resilient bunch; they have to be in order to cope with the chronic and recurrent restructuring of the health service architecture that have been the feature of  NHS landscape since time began (or at least that’s how it feels sometimes!). However, this resilience is not always a good thing.

I am sure that if you ask any NHS worker how things actually are at the coal face, they will tell you quite clearly that things are not good: budgets are extremely tight; services are being cut back; and, worst of all, services are being privatised under the very noses of those who are supposed to be responsible for purchasing them – the GPs.

In the North East of England, there are a number of services which Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) have decided need to be decommissioned and then re-commissioned.  One such service is the community psychology service in North Tyneside.  Another is the paediatric occupational and speech and language therapy services in County Durham.  They are not the only ones, and I am sure won’t be the last!  The question is what can we do about it?

Unite the union members working in the psychology service in North Tyneside decided to write to the local GPs (in whose name commissioning decisions are taken) to make them aware of what was being done.  This seems to have put the proverbial cat where perhaps the CCG didn’t want it to go, because some of those GPs are now asking questions and expressing concerns about what is being done and the risk to continuity of the service that they currently receive.

In Durham, Unite members and activists have been meeting to put together a strategy for raising public awareness of the CCG’s proposals.  This led to me as their regional officer being asked to address a public meeting in Durham City Centre one Friday evening a couple of weeks ago.  I expected to find perhaps a dozen people there and was astounded to find the room packed out with close to 100 people.

My point with both of these anecdotes is that the public do care about their health services and certainly about the staff whose job it is to deliver that care.  However, if the public don’t know about how bad things are then they can’t be expected to do anything to help.  The fact that health workers are able to keep calm and carry on in the face of sustained and determined attack against the infrastructure of the health service is truly incredible.  Maybe now is not the time for the Dunkirk Spirit; maybe now is the time for all of us to talk to everyone we know about how bad things actually are, thereby giving the public the chance to be angry about what is being done to their National Health Service in the name of “modernisation”.

Now is the time to fight back.