The largest trade union in Britain has criticised the claim that government officials were reluctant to put protections for the NHS into a controversial trans-Atlantic trade deal.
Unite has been hugely opposed to the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) deal between Europe and the US, and has particularly suggested that it poses a future to the public nature of the NHS.
The union has been campaigning against the deal, and opined that the European commission deems the notion of excluding the NHS from the impact of the agreement incompatible with its overall negotiating strategy.
While Unite has been hugely critical of TTI P, other organisations and credential individuals have been similarly dismissive, concerned about the potential impact of the deal.
Many political critics of the trade partnership suggest that the deal would effectively make privatisation of the NHS irreversible for future administrations.
There is also concern that private companies with links to NHS contracts will be able to win higher levels of compensation by effectively bypassing domestic courts.
Despite the fact that the major political parties have all backed the European Union, the Labour leader Jeremy Corbin has nonetheless criticised the agreement.
Joseph Stiglitz, the Nobel Prize-winning economist recruited by the shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, to advise the Labour party, earlier this month went as far as saying the UK could be better off leaving the EU if TTIP was signed.
Unite’s assistant general secretary, Gail Cartmail, gave a statement to the media in which she outlined the concerns of the union about this trade deal.
“Given the importance of the NHS and the fierce debate taking place in the UK over the European Union, you would expect the EU commissioner for trade to act without delay to allay our concerns over the impact of TTIP on the NHS. It is time for Cecilia Malmström to make clear that the UK government can act to exempt the NHS from TTIP without opposition from the commission. The NHS is hugely important to people in the UK; Cecilia Malmstrom must answer these important questions without delay.”
And as the union continues to criticise the government’s position on both the NHS and TTIP, it is clear that meetings have been brokered between the two sides in the dispute.
A spokeswoman for the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills confirmed that a private meeting took place with Unite last month.
However, no statement has been made on the substance of this confab.
“The government has always been clear that protecting the NHS is of the utmost importance for the UK and will not be compromised for gains in any other part of the TTIP deal. We believe, as does the European commission, that provisions in the current TTIP texts and previous trade deals achieve this protection.”
TTIP has been reviled on both sides of the Atlantic by campaigners for offering too much power to the existing corporate sector.
The Unite trade union has announced what it has described as “a key conference” to discuss the existing state of the NHS.
A particular subject of the conference will be what Unite deems to be the “right-wing ideological tide that is engulfing” the health service.
This open discussion forum in London comes at a time when there is a political schism occurring in Great Britain.
The new direction of the Labour party under the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn will likely contrast significantly with the existing Conservative government, despite promises that the Tories have made with regard to the NHS.
Unite have stated that the conference will broach a wide variety of topics.
These will include doctors planning to work abroad because of the proposed 24/7 working contracts for junior doctors, and healthcare for the victims of torture, asylum seekers and refugees.
Other items on the agenda will be the devolution of healthcare to the countries and cities, private finance initiatives (PFI); torture, asylum seekers and refugees, 24/7 working, and bullying and whistleblowing.
The conference will be entitled “Doctors and Medical Students – our role in saving the NHS”, with the aim of bringing together passionate healthcare professionals from all over the UK.
Dr Clare Gerada, former chair, Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) and former medical advisor to NHS London, is booked to address the conference, with numerous other prominent speakers also expected.
Several organisations are expected to provide speakers for the conference, among these Crash Call for the NHS, Doctors in Unite, Doctors of the World UK, Medact, Medsin, NHS Doctors for the NHS, NHS Survival, Patients First and the Socialist Health Association.
Commenting on the potential of this conference, United chair Dr Ron Singer made reference to the ascension of Corbyn the position of Labour leadership.
“Recent political events show that many people want something hopeful and positive from politicians. This chimes with the enduring popularity of the NHS as publicly owned and providing a high quality service. In contrast, there is deep hostility from the public to the accelerating privatisation agenda,” Singer asserted.
The chair also placed into contact the importance of healthcare professionals with regard to this critical issue.
“Doctors and medical students will have greater impact on policy decisions and spearheading public opinion, if they can work closer together. We hope that by agreeing common ground and discussing ‘the difficult bits’ doctors and students will be more able to campaign for a better NHS and social care future for patients and staff,” Singer stated.
The conference will be staged on Saturday 17th of October, with the meeting to be held at Unite House, 128 Theobald’s Road, Holborn, London WC1X 8TN between 11.00 and 16.00.
Doctors and medical students wishing to book a place can do so via Eventbrite.
The scandal of rapidly increasing agency costs in the NHS needs to be tackled as a matter of urgency by health secretary Jeremy Hunt, Unite, the country’s largest union, said today (Tuesday 2 June).
Unite, which has 100,000 members in the health service, was commenting as the think tank, the Nuffield Trust warned today that staff burn-out could derail the NHS ‘efficiency’ drive and the move to a seven-day service.
“It is quite right that the Nuffield Trust has highlighted the scandal of accelerating expenditure on agency staff which has jumped by 31 percent in just one year”, said Barrie Brown, head of health at Unite.
“Unite and the other health unions raised this very issue with Jeremy Hunt on 20 January this year during the pay negotiations. The health secretary has been slow to get to grips with the spiralling out of control agency budget.
“Unite wants the agency bill slashed and permanent nursing staff and other health professionals employed with proper training and development in place, coupled with robust recruitment and retention policies.
“We welcome the pledge at the weekend by NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens that he will clamp down on the staffing agencies that he said were ripping off the NHS – this promise is not before time.
“Media reports that some of the bosses of these staffing agencies are living a five-star high life on the profits levered out of the financially challenged NHS will sicken those on waiting lists for hospital treatment.
“The money going to these agencies could be quickly redirected towards helping patients get the care they deserve and that permanent staff are fairly rewarded for their work for all their patients.”