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UNISON conference ignites NHS privatisation row

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UNISON general secretary Dave Prentis promised to fight against the privatisation of the NHS in a hard-hitting speech at UNISON’s Health Care Service Group Conference yesterday.

Mr Prentis said that the government had alienated health workers with its drive to introduce market forces into the NHS.

He also criticised Private Finance Initiative (PFI) deals that finance many new hospital builds for being a waste of money.

He told delegates at the Harrogate International Centre: ‘UNISON will oppose any bail out of PFI contracts - not on our watch. The government is losing support and trust of health workers and the public.

PFIs mean that private companies take the profits, and the risk is transferred. Who shares the risk? The taxpayer, our members. We simply will not put up with it.’

Mr Prentis also praised Nursing Times, which has just announced a partnership with UNISON.

‘Nursing Times will be recommending UNISON as the union of choice for nurses, UNISON will be recommending Nursing Times to its members..’

Markets in motion

Meanwhile, a motion opposing privatisation of the NHS sparked passionate debate among conference delegates.

The motion, entitled Keep the NHS Working, condemns pro-market health policies of the main political parties.

It calls for a campaign against privatisation of the NHS and resistance against a European Commission directive on cross-border health care, which could make choosing European health care systems easier.

Karen Jennings, UNISON’s head of health, said: ‘It is truly astounding that the NHS has remained intact after all the attacks over the years. As far as this is concerned, 2009 is a key year .’

Delegate Caroline Bedale, from UNISON’s Manchester and Community Mental Health Branch, called for industrial action against privatisation.

‘We have to follow the example of workers who occupied their workplaces to fight for their rights,’ she said.

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Readers' comments (1)

  • Very disappointed to hear that the Nursing Times has jumped into bed with UNISON and in doing so compromised its independence.

    I would also like to ask where Dave Prentis and Karen Jennings have been for the last 25 years? Are they so young that they have no idea what the NHS was like in the 1970's and 80's before Maggie Thatcher set out on her quest to privatise the NHS?

    For their information, it is my view that the following services which formed part of the original NHS have already been privatised or part privatised.

    Care of elderly people - Whilst l accept that some care is still funded by the government, if it was free at source (NHS principle) why have the elderly been contributing towards homecare packages and nursing home care for many years?

    The original idea that Nursing and Residential Homes would be small and homely environments has now disappeared, they are now large institutions which have been bought up by large insurance companies and business people who are looking to make money.

    People with learning disability - Most care is now provided by charities and private insitutions, not NHS establishments. We have also lost the specific training for Registered Nurse in this area of expertise.

    People with enduring mental health issues -Mostly provided by private or charitable institutions or in some cases allowed to join the homeless population of our caring society!!

    Added to this there is a growing increase in the amount of forensic psychiatry which is now being provided by private institutions at considerable expense to the NHS.

    I will accept that some of these services are paid for by the NHS, but they are now exposed to market forces, where a great number of poviders are looking to profit from the services that they provide.

    Whilst the Thatcher era started the process, Labour or New labour has continued with the process and how simple it will be in 20 years time to tell the general public, "You now have to pay for your care through health insurance".

    It will not mean the government having to build facilities or develope services as these have been put in place over the last 25 years. Politicians and their masters Civil Servants (How true and perceptive were the TV shows Yes Minister and Yes Prime Minister") do not want the direct responsibility, that way they can blame everybody else when things go wrong, as we have seen over the last 10 years.

    I am not against Unisons policy to fight against privatisation, or saying that the most of the private sector are not providing good basic care, however it is a bit like shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted for many of our vulnerable group.

    Whilst the NHS has been slowly dismantled where was the voice of UNISON?

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