On Friday, I attended the Scottish Health Sector Conference of Unite. This was an impressive event in many ways – well-attended, with 50 or 60 reps there, and a sense of those reps being incredibly well organised and well informed. One of the things that really struck me, though, was the level of anger that so many reps expressed.There were a few different issues that people focused on. One was Agenda for Change – still ongoing in Scotland, as it is in Northern Ireland. I knew before attending the Conference that outcomes have been very variable, and a lot of members are unhappy with the results they have got. Estates staff were particularly unhappy, with one rep saying they’d looked at job descriptions virtually identical to their own that had come out on higher Bands. He believed that his members’ jobs south of Carlisle would have come out a Band higher. Speech and language therapists told me over lunch of the same variability and described particular problems in Glasgow – with sharp reductions in salary for senior and specialist therapists. For a national pay system, AFC is turning out to be remarkably dodgy!
One of the biggest problems seems to be that our activists aren’t getting the support they need with AFC. The same is almost certainly true of Northern Ireland. When AFC was being rolled out across England, we had briefing packs for reps, training days, detailed back-up from FTOs and so on. That’s pretty much gone. If we’re going to stand a chance of over-turning poor outcomes, the Union must get detailed support in at review stage – and that means moving quickly to make sure this happens.
Another issue causing huge anger is the review of Scottish community nursing. I did a more detailed posting on this back in November: https://gillgeorge.wordpress.com/2007/11/07/disaster-for-scottish-community-nursing/
This is really serious. There are proposals to merge the separate roles of health visitor, school nurse and district nurse into a single generic ‘community nurse’ role. This will have major consequences particularly for children and their families – almost certainly there will be a loss of focus on public health and preventative work, and a loss of any focus on child and family-centred work. There’s likely to be a real dumbing down of the distinct and specialist roles of these three separate professions. There is overwhelming opposition to these proposals within community nursing – but the plans are about to be piloted. Once rolled out, this will be very difficult to reverse.
What was astonishing was the explanation given by a senior full time officer at the event. His view was that our nursing members didn’t understand the technicalities of what was going on, that we were working in partnership, we had to be working on the inside not the outside, when there was a conflict between the Health Department and our members we had to be very careful… In practice, this seemed to amount to not opposing the plans. Nurses at the meeting are furious at seeing their jobs dismantled, essential services threatened – and their Union at best equivocal in its support. One CPHVA rep has resigned from a senior Union position – I don’t believe the right thing to do, but understandable.
This was the third theme of the Conference: the loss of lay control, a theme bubbling away beneath very many contributions. Our activists in Scotland don’t believe that they run the Union – and many individuals told me of their anger at a top-down approach in which lay members have little say. The loss of lay control was clear in the discussions around both Agenda for Change and community nursing.
This has got to be a priority in the new Union, as we move forward to full merger – and a priority for the whole UK, not just Scotland. Lay control and democracy in any union aren’t just nice, fluffy things that are a bit of a luxury. They are essential. If reps and activists set the agenda and determine priorities, we’re far more likely to end up with a Union that’s responsive to members and that delivers for members. That means a Union that can grow and organise, and a Union that has a future. We’ve tended to lose lay control in Amicus – it’s essential that we to win it back in Unite.