Strike Call Underlines Crisis in NHS
Yesterday, union representatives of the crews of the
London Ambulance Service met to set a date to ballot the 2,300 staff on strike
The management of the LAS failed to honour an agreement
that holidays should be allowed unless more than 10 per cent of the workforce
is off at the same time. Some of the workers were told to cancel their holidays
because the service is so short-staffed. Decisions as to whether to grant leave
are being left to the discretion of local managers.
The move comes only a week after an internal report,
produced by the London Ambulance Service NHS Trust, which revealed that there
were alarming pressures on the service, because of underfunding and
understaffing. The report set out 70 specific improvements. It is estimated
that the present level of funding means that there are as many as 500
preventable deaths each year.
UNISON branch secretary, Eric Roberts, described the
management's move as "the straw that broke the camel's back". He
explained: "The service is understaffed and there are problems when people
take leave, but there is a procedure for that. It is the way this has been done
which has really angered our members."
The London Ambulance Service has been without a chief
executive since the resignation of the Michael Honey in February, although the
LAS is expected to announce a new appointment this week.
Speaking of the LAS, Geoff Martin, director of London Health
Emergency, said: "To punish staff for a crisis which is not of their
making is scandalous. It is a rudderless ship and somebody really needs to come
in and take control."
While the NHS Plan was announced by the government with much
fanfare as the biggest reform since the NHS was founded, the day-to-day reality
is of continuing crisis in the health service. Nursing staff and health care
workers, including the ambulance crews, are being put under severe pressure.
Not only that, but they are taking the brunt of the burden of the crisis, while
being the first to be blamed and held responsible when they take a stand.
This dispute is no exception. It is not the ambulance crews
who are putting lives at risk, as the management claims, but the crisis in the
health service. It is criminal to accuse the workers of irresponsibility, while
the crying need is to safeguard the future of the health service by increasing
its funding and ensuring that the needs of the people for an all-round decent
standard of health care are met.
The LAS staff, in common with other health workers in
various parts of the country, are also noted for their work, for example, in
support of the blockaded state of Cuba, a country which despite the blockade
has a health service which is second to none. The London ambulance staff last
year raised thousands of pounds to send 16 ambulances to the socialist country,
and aims to send as many as 50 more this year.